|Pen and Ink Reflections||
How do you, how do we, approach new things? On this New Year’s Day, how are we feeling about what is happening and may happen? My sense is that some of us are hopeful and excited, but others less sure and anxious. Some of us see fresh possibilities, and others renewed burdens. What does tomorrow’s world look like, and feel like, to you?
by another road
What jumps out at you in any Gospel story? Asking that question is part of the practice of Lectio Divina – divine reading of the scriptures. If you are not aware of that spiritual pathway, do speak with Penny afterwards! Approaching scripture that way, today it is the phrase ‘by another road’ which springs out for me from the text. Now I know that is partly because, in returning to Sydney very soon, I am taking ‘another road’ in my life and ministry this year. Indeed, this Gospel passage came to mind vividly when I came to accepting a fresh calling in the Uniting Church. What I have to say today is linked to that reflective unpacking. Yet isn’t ‘by another road’ a great phrase for most of us in our world at this time, as we emerge from 2020 where old roads (literally and metaphorically) were difficult if not impossible, and as we begin a new year? Let me suggest three ways in which this may be so, drawing on the story of the Magi. For there are at least three great questions which the Magi pose, and embody, for us all. How, that is, will we learn, love and light up our world, so that we too journey home ‘by another road’?...
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…
Do we see the star of the Epiphany? I mean, do we really see the star and understand what it means? Most people don't. Some see the star and are full of awe for a moment or two and then move on. Others see it and understand it wrongly, or partially. Others see it among other lights and then follow them. Others are simply looking in the wrong place. So where are we looking? For the Epiphany story is actually a strange one. It is not what it might immediately seem. Whilst we typically often cover it in tinsel and sentimentality, it is in fact quite disturbing, and, thereby, potentially quite transforming…
The first Christmas sermon I preached here in Toowoomba empolyed words of a great poet songwriter singer: Leonard Cohen who, sadly for us, died recently. Let me then preach my final Christmas sermon here with reference to the words of another great poetic songwriter singer: Bob Dylan, who was recently awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature. For like Leonard Cohen, Dylan’s lyrics have typically been grounded in a relationship to existence which we can call religious, in the very best sense of that word: namely a relationship which is not always conventional, and certainly not ‘churchy’, but which is always seeking to connect with the deepest ground of our being. It is from this place that we find our truest meaning, both for our individual lives and for our families, communities and wider world. For, in Dylan’s words which take us to the heart of the feast of Christ’s nativity, whoever ‘is not busy being born is busy dying.’ In the nativity we see the ultimate meaning, source and purpose of life. We are invited to share that light and love, by allowing it to be born more fully in us and the world around us…
not any old epiphany
Today we are keeping the feast of the epiphany - not any old epiphany, not the kind of epiphany I have as I am walking along thinking about nothing in particular and then realise what it is I need to cook for dinner- no, THE epiphany, the big one, the one that makes all the others make sense. And what is that exactly? It is when the wisest ones in the world, bring everything the world has to offer - wealth, power and even suffering, disguised as gold, frankincense and myrrh - and lay it all at the feet of a helpless, speechless baby of dubious parentage born in the poorest of circumstances and say ' this is it'! This is Emmanuel - God with us.
Once we understand that epiphany everything else that happens in the life of Jesus Christ and in our lives falls into place. Once we realise, once we truly SEE- because epiphany is always about seeing, about the light bulb moments of our lives - once we truly see that the incarnation is all that truly matters, then everything else makes sense...
becoming a church of the Magi
Just before Christmas we had a wonderful gathering in St Luke’s, of many faiths and none. It was a time of remembrance and prayer for those who had been killed and traumatised by recent events, including the Sydney siege and the massacre of children in Pakistan. It was a time of reaffirmation and deepened solidarity as we renewed our city commitment to peace and harmony. It was a time which showed we have something very special here in Toowoomba. For so many places in the world would be amazed that Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Baha’is, and so many others, can not only live together peacefully but even appreciate one another and share their distinctive gifts. That should not seem unusual. Yet it is. We should therefore celebrate and build upon it. For, in a deep sense, as we hear today’s Epiphany Gospel, we are perhaps thereby 'a Church of the Magi’…
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney