How do we want our stories to end? Whether it is our own story, or that of our community, our nation, our world, much is up to us. Now, we may not have much room for manoeuvre. All kinds of forces help shape our lives, internal and unconscious, as well as external and recognised. Yet we still have power to shape our stories, even if only by our attitudes, and by how we receive and respond to what happens to us. This truth is at the very heart of the Gospel and the power of love, forgiveness, and justice seeking. For, however you view the Resurrection stories, a common feature is their open, unfinished nature. The tomb is not sealed. The body is not there or is transformed. The end is a new beginning. So how do we want the story to continue?...
Today's baptism was delayed from the end of June by the lockdown this year. It is therefore long awaited. In another way however, it is especially appropriate to take place at this particular time: as we celebrate hope and the embodiment of love, especially with Mary and her extraordinary cry of liberation, typically known as the Magnificat. For the person we baptise is, in my view, a truly remarkable person, and a wonderful embodiment of love: both gentle and fearless, just like Mary, the mother of Jesus. Like each of us, she is a truly special creation of God. In her case, I am deeply humbled and enriched by the love and kindness of her presence, by the deep courage of their journey in life to join us; and by the possibilities and dreams she bears. For, like Mary, in her life and baptism today, she helps birth divine love anew among us. Like Mary, but in her own particular way, she thereby encourages us to magnify God’s love and help make it real among us…
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...
‘The Body doesn’t lie’, they say. Well, certainly it can powerfully reveal and prompt us to the truth. Years ago, for example, I remember a yoga teacher asking me to curl up into the foetal position and give myself a hug, expressing my love for myself. But I simply couldn’t manage it. I took up position, but my arms just wouldn’t do it. Even when I actively exercised my mind to give myself the appearance of a hug, my body would not obey. For you cannot simply command love. It has to be received, acknowledged, and embodied. Or, to put it another way, love has to be breathed in and breathed out. All of this takes us to the heart of Jesus’ teaching about the commandments (in Mark 12.28-34), and to the core of the Biblical tradition…
What does the word care mean to you? And what does it mean to us as a community?
In the area where I was born, this particular Sunday in the year is traditionally known as Carlin(g), or Care, Sunday. It includes a centuries old custom of eating meals made of Carlin peas – otherwise known as black, maple, or pigeon peas – warm and nourishing fare for poor communities. Today, though the traditions are slowly dying out, such peas can still be bought in places like the markets in Durham. Where exactly the custom came from depends on whom you ask in the north east of England. Most trace Carling back to at least the British Civil Wars, when the great city of Newcastle upon Tyne was besieged, only to be saved from hunger by ships from overseas carrying black peas – again, depending on whom you ask, from France, or Norway, or somewhere else. The point is that this was about being saved from distressing cares, and also sharing care. To share the poor people’s meal of peas, is thus to share a kind of communion, of salvation, and care. Where then, I wonder, do we find the sources of our care, and share our communion with the poor?...
Today on Good Friday we affirm the infinite Love of God displayed in the crucifixion of Jesus - not as a metaphysical transaction to change God from punishing us (as if), but as a witness to the love of God for us at all times, even when we have gone astray or are caught in webs of evil. Sadly too many Christians speak of a punishing God, with disastrous spiritual and practical consequences. That is partly understandable from some past inherited thinking in Christian traditions. It is however a partial way of looking at the cross which is not only destructive but wholly unnecessary theologically.
The Franciscan tradition - not least through the great theologian John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) - is in contrast one which has always encouraged us to focus on the infinite Love of God, displayed in the cross as in all other aspects of creation and salvation. As Richard Rohr among others has recently reminded us, if God “needed” a blood sacrifice to love God’s own creation, then God was not freely loving us. For the Franciscans, 'Jesus was not changing God’s mind about us; he was changing our minds about God. If God and Jesus are not violent or vindictive, then our excuse for the same is forever taken away from us. If God is punitive and torturing however, then we have permission to do the same. Thus grew much of the church’s violent history.'
W.H.Vanstone put this beautifully in his great poem and reflection on 'Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense:
Drained is love in making full,
bound in setting others free,
poor in making many rich,
weak in giving power to be.
Therefore he who shows us God
helpless hangs upon the tree;
and the nails and crown of thorns
tell of what God’s love must be.
Here is God: no monarch he,
throned in easy state to reign;
here is God, whose arms of love
aching, spent, the world sustain.
May we know God's Love more deeply this day, and may it transform our lives for the good.
by Jo Inkpin, for Good Friday 10 April 2020
see further: Richard Rohr's reflection - A Nonviolent Atonement
What does holiness, and being saintly, look like to you?
Where have you seen and experienced holiness, in the lives of other human beings you might call saintly?
On this feast of All Saints it is right for us to ponder for a moment, and to reflect, perhaps with others, on what we have seen and heard… what, I wonder, do we see, and who and what do we call holy? How does this fit with the patterns and pointers we find in our Scriptures and Tradition?
Taking up today’s Gospel (Luke 15.1-10), I want to speak about three things: queer sheep, the value of women’s coins, and rainbow repentance; about how queer sheep need revaluing; about how women’s coins challenge Church and world to rainbow repentance; and about how rainbow repentance involves renewing pride in queer sheep. Firstly though, let me speak of a cartoon highlighting these themes. For, like a good picture, an insightful cartoon can paint a thousand words…
Jesus invites us to stand up straight, in the knowledge that we are loved and lovable – and in this story of the woman bent double he provides us with an icon, a window, onto that truth...
‘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!...