- Oh my: it’s to be hoped they were all at 1.5metres distance and wearing masks!...
“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…
Goodness is stronger than evil; Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness; Life is stronger than death.
These are Archbishop Tutu's words, and they sum up the good news that Christians bring to the world in remembering Good Friday and celebrating Easter. They celebrate Christ's victory over death, and thus the possibility of resurrection for us and all creation. There is no darkness so deep, no grief so unbearable, no injustice so challenging that Christ cannot transform it.
Sometimes we forget that God is for us and not against us. When we are in trouble, and sometimes even when things are going well, we can turn our attention away from God. Easter is a time to turn back and re-connect.
On Easter Day the great Easter candle is lit and carried into churches with great ceremony. It stands as a reminder of the truth that God's love is stronger than death and anything we fear. So whatever pain or sorrow is happening in your life, remember Christ bears that hurt with you, and His love overcomes our fear, ultimately wiping our tears from our eyes.
How do we respond to death? I don’t ask that as a negative question but because it is at the heart of our Gospel – our Good News – today, and throughout this Holy Week. It is an unavoidable question, however much we try to avoid it: for, as the old proverb has it, two things are certain in life: death and taxes. Yet, more meaningfully, Christians believe, how we respond to death is at the heart of how we find life in this world, which is the ultimate meaning of our Gospel and the culmination of this Holy Week in the Resurrection. So, as we hear today’s Gospel reading (the story of Christ’s Passion according to Luke) - in three parts - let us reflect upon the challenge of death, so that we may find life again more fully, as Jesus offers it to us…
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Jo Inkpin,