|Pen and Ink Reflections||
Recently I was given a wonderful handmade doorstop. It was a gift from the main organiser of an event I spoke at in the Uniting Church’s Pilgrim College in Melbourne (see my address here and Talitha's own explanation here). We were marking the landmark first Australian university unit in Queer Theology, before the intensive which Penny and I were about to teach. As such, the doorstop was one fitting symbol of such developments, keeping open the possibilities of hearing the voice of God in contemporary culture, particularly in queer lives and spiritual experience, and enabling some of our collective old pain and exhaustions to leave and new joys and challenges to enter. It is however but one doorstop among many created by my colleague during the world’s longest COVID-19 lockdowns in Melbourne. For too many doors were closed at that time. Then and still now, she feels it is important to have practical symbols which keep alive horizons of hope and renew possibilities of life and relationship. In that sense, it is also perhaps one fitting pointer both to our Gospel story (Luke 10.25-38) and to the divine possibilities of Christian mission today. For, in a number of other ways, the parable of the so-called ‘Good’ Samaritan is actually quite impossible…
living as parables and artists
Today’s Gospel lectionary reading (Mark 4.20-34) invites us into Jesus’ way of communicating, which is not just about speech, even accompanied by silence and action. It is a way of being, a way of living: a way of living as parables, a way of being as artists…
‘You’re Fired!’ No, this homily is not centred on Donald Trump, but on Jesus’ words in today’s lectionary story. Yet that famous declaration is very relevant. For ‘You’re Fired!” is not only catchphrase of one of the more successful Donald Trump initiatives, in the highly rated TV series ‘The Apprentice’. ‘You’re Fired!’ is also effectively the punchline of today’s Gospel passage (Matthew 25, verses 14-30). Indeed, in that story we find that the least successful money entrepreneur is not only fired, as by Donald Trump in ‘The Apprentice’. They, in the Gospel, are also ‘thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’. Now what kind of ‘good news’ is that? And how on earth does it sit with today’s Brisbane Pride Month emphasis on celebration and the joys of affirming God in one another, irrespective of who we are or what we have achieved? Maybe we need to look again with a ‘queer eye’?!...
Human beings can’t walk on water. This is fairly easily observable. However I was once told by no less a person than a church warden, that if I could build a labyrinth for meditative walking in the religiously conservative city of Toowoomba then I could walk on water. She was trying to tell me it was impossible. But the Toowoomba City Labyrinth was built and continues as a great tool for prayer. And – I can’t walk on water! Nor, I venture to suggest could Jesus.
If Jesus did walk on water, then we rid ourselves of one problem – the questioning of the historical accuracy of the Biblical account. But we create another - a Christ who only pretended to be human. Because humans can’t walk on water. We can of course protest that Jesus is the Son of God and can do anything, but the moment we do that we open up a whole other set of problems around why Jesus does not do a whole heap of other things that might be felt more useful, like ending wars or saving children’s lives. If we do not want to turn the human Jesus into a capricious divine figure masquerading as a human being, we might have to accept that he did not in fact walk on water.
So, what about this story then? How are we to read it? Well some scholars resolve the problem quite neatly by declaring it to be a misplaced resurrection story. This makes a lot of sense. This is why the disciples for examples are afraid and think they are seeing a ghost. However, I do not think that is the whole answer...
Jesus asks his disciples ‘Have you understood all this?’ and they answer 'Yes.” And I find myself saying, ‘really?!’ I rather think that in fact the disciples had the somewhat glazed expression that I had this week, when the NBN technician was trying to help me factory re-set my modem password! My 'yes’ really meant, actually I haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about, but I trust you to work it out anyway”...
parables of patience
‘He told them another parable’. I love parables, don’t you? And one of the things I love about them is that there is never, ever a ‘right answer’; a single correct interpretation. Of course, that can be rather trying to those of us who like clear answers. But Jesus didn’t give any clear answers, and where he appears to do so, we can be pretty sure that the gospel writer is putting words in his mouth.
This morning we heard a little cluster of three parables – and a dodgy interpretation of one of them – did you spot them all? The wheat and the weeds, the mustard seed and the woman with the yeast. Sometimes they are known as parables of growth, especially as they follow on in Matthew’s version from the parable of the sower. But it seemed to me this week that we could call them ‘parables of patience’ – and as such very apt for our current situation, where the spread of COVID seems to be asking again and again for patience...
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...
A desert monk who once said: ‘the day will come when the world will go mad. When they meet someone who is sane, they will point at them and say “they are mad: they are not like us.”’ ‘They are mad: they are not like us’ – isn’t that part of the madness of our own world today? How often do we separate ourselves from others, or are separated from others, because the awareness of our common humanity has been lost? How badly do we need the sanity of loving our neighbour as ourselves?
As the Warumpi Band put it, in a notable song:
Black fella, white fella./Yellow fella, any fella./It doesn't matter, what your colour./As long as you, a true fella./As long as you, a real fella. Isn’t this at the heart of Jesus’ teaching in our Gospel passage today?...
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney