As each of us comes to worship today, how are we going in our lives and faith? Are we ourselves wrestling with challenging things in our lives, and with God? Are we bearing wounds? Are we seeking blessing, or feeling blessed? In what ways are we perhaps ‘God’s Wrestlers’, ‘God’s Wounded’, ‘God’s Blessed’? These are but three different ways of approaching the great Hebrew story we encounter today in our lectionary (Genesis 32.22-31) - the story we may call Jacob’s Wrestling with the Angel, or alternatively, Jacob’s Wounding, or Jacob’s Blessing...
As a small child, one of the most wonderful things I remember my school asked me to do, was to grow a plant. Now it didn't appear to us children to start well. For we were each given a very unassuming brown bean and an empty jam jar. We were instructed on how to fill the jar with soil (whoopee!) and put the bean into it so we could see still see it, and we were told to keep watering and looking after it. To begin with of course, nothing happened, or seemed to happen. It was seemingly just a boring glass jar with dirt inside it, together with a seemingly even more boring brown bean. TV, and football, seemed much more enjoyable. Watering and caring for the bean seemed pointless. But I did persist. Then, amazingly, one morning, I woke to see a shoot beginning to break out of the bean, and then another, and another. These beautiful white strands of life then began to break through the surface of the soil into the light, sprouting even more gorgeous green leaves. For the small child I was, it was spectacular. TV was one thing, and football - well, maybe even football - was another. This however was a wonder, and a wonder I had myself helped to nurture.
Do we lose that sense of wonder as we grow older, do you think? Do we stop learning that new life is always possible - that it will break out extraordinarily by God's good grace, and a little human care? Do we fail to realise that we too are not destined to be boring brown beans in boring jam jars, imprisoned in dirt? The good news - our Gospel message - is indeed that we too are called to sprout, reach out and flourish in the light. Moreover, this morning, what a better way do we have to express that than in our prayers and blessing for Clara, as she sprouts into the authentic light of who she is, in God's grace, as a transgender person?...
“He breathed on them and said, ’Receive the Holy Spirit’”
- Oh my: it’s to be hoped they were all at 1.5metres distance and wearing masks!...
On this Mother’s Day we have a gospel text that has Jesus talk a great deal about the Father! That is only problematic, if we then falsely equate God and fatherhood. God is of course beyond gender and inclusive of all genders. So theologically the writer of John could just as well have written ‘I am in the Mother and the Mother is in me.’ Had they done so, the shape of church life down the centuries might have been a little different! But what they were most concerned about was not the gender of God, but the nature of our relationship with God. On the eve of crucifixion, Jesus is depicted reassuring the disciples that what matters is that we all have our home, our dwelling place in the heart of God and we can trust this no matter what. Our relationship with God is as intimate as that between parent and child; our home in God modeled on earthly hearth and home.
When in the 1870s Julia Ward Howe established a Mothers’ Day for Peace, she did so from the passionate belief that relationship is what matters and can make a difference. All mothers raise children for life, and not as cannon fodder for war and destruction. Mothers raise children to maintain relationship and to care for one another. They do so because they understand well that God cares for each human child just like a good mother, with tenderness and equal love, while cherishing their diversity.
Mothers indeed provide to their children exactly the gifts that Jesus promises the disciples – life, truth and a pathway to follow. Every human child relies on a mother for the gift of life, nurtured by them in the womb. Those who mother us in later life, whether our birth mothers, or others who tend to us with motherly care, then offer us the gift of truth – the truth of who we are and have the potential to become. No one knows us better than the mother figures in our lives – some of whom of course may be fathers! It is also the role of mothers to offer us pathways, ways to navigate the challenges of life, drawing on their own experience and the pathways shown to them by their own forebears. Many of us will have been helped along the pathway of discipleship by the mothering love we received in Christian community.
So today as we give thanks for those who have mothered us, we give thanks too for our relationship with God – a relationship of intimacy and care, in which we receive the gifts of life, truth and ways to walk – the gifts of our true Mother. Amen.
by Penny Jones, for Sunday 3 May 2020
Today a very few of us (in line with current health guidelines) gather to baptise Charlotte. And we do so in the face of perhaps the greatest global crisis we shall see in a lifetime. Yet, in some ways, what better time to baptise someone! What better time to remember the great themes of baptism, water, life and light...
Perhaps the most frequently chosen greeting on our Christmas cards is ‘peace on earth’. Regardless of the religious perspective of sender or recipient, we believe that this is a universally desirable message. However, what do we really mean when we send this? For true peace is about much more than the absence of conflict or some warm fuzzy feeling of general well-being.
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…
If the Feast of the Epiphany tells us anything, it is that truly holy gifts come from surprising places. Why else would the bearers of gold, frankincense and myrrh not only be Gentiles – unclean foreigners, from other nations – but also Magi to boot? Recent Christmas tradition has called them the Wise Men, or the Three Kings, but there is nothing in the text to say that they were kings, or only male, or only three of them, or even ‘wise’ in typical Jewish understanding. In fact the word Magi may indicate the word ‘magician’, as used, disapprovingly, elsewhere in the New Testament. So we have a story today where the main bearers of the revelation of Jesus Christ, and its symbols, are potentially very dodgy outsiders indeed. Of course this is highly intentional. For, from the very start, in its genealogy of Jesus, Matthew’s Gospel is keen to tell us that God’s revelation, and salvation, involves surprising people and surprising divine moves. So it was then and remains now, if our eyes, ears and hearts are open. When I begin by saying my address this morning is inspired by a funeral I attended this week, you may therefore recognise something of that same surprising movement of our surprising God…
‘We believe Life before Death, do you?’ Let me say that again: ‘we believe in Life before Death.’ Do you believe that?
Quite a few years ago now, Christian Aid in the UK used those words as a way of highlighting their aid and development work. In doing so, they deliberately turned upside down a widespread, but deeply mistaken, view of the Christian Faith as a whole. For ‘we believe in Life after Death’ is a popular affirmation of Christian Faith, isn’t it? Of course, that is true also. The Love of God we trust in in Jesus Christ is indeed so strong that nothing can stop it, not even the powers of death. The Love of God into which Christians are baptised is truly eternal Love, eternal Life, extending through all time and space, and dimensions of existence. Sadly however, too many Christians become so caught up in the ‘Life after Death’ affirmation, that they neglect, or even look doubtfully, on the idea that Jesus, and Christian Faith, is also, and first and foremost, about ‘Life before Death.’ Too many people, in and outside our churches, understand Christianity in terms of getting to heaven when we die. What an amazing turning-upside down of the life and teaching of Jesus!...
‘There was an ancient music on the earth before humans ever came here. Imagine what the first music of the wind was like when the earth was born out of nothing. Imagine the wind being released for the first time, and finding itself running into silver mountains, dark mountains, skimming over boiling oceans. And if you enter into the dream which brought you here, and awaken its beauty in you, then the beauty will gradually awaken all around you.’
- so begins the introduction to the film ‘Celtic Pilgrimage’ which shares much of John O’Donohue’s life and work. And, in a way, like many of his sayings, those gorgeously fashioned few words alone might really be enough for us to ponder tonight. For the heart of much of his insight and encouragement to live is contained in them: the vitality of creation and the landscape; the call to imagination and to enter into the dreams of our life; and the centrality of beauty and of wonder. John O’Donohue’s life and work was an invitation and example of how to attend to such presence and to travel as adventurous pilgrims into them…