There was once a monk who, whenever he passed a mirror, would look into it, wink, and say: ‘so, you old rogue, who are you today, and what are you up to?’ It is a lovely example of what, at its best, today’s queer theology asks. It is at the heart of what Mark Jordan was saying in our contemporary reading today (‘In Search of Queer Theology Lost’). In a striking manner, it also helps lead us into this week’s great Gospel story of the Transfiguration and its meaning(s) for us. For the monk, queer theology, and our Gospel, each challenge us to deeper, more refreshing, ways of living and understanding life and faith. Each disturbs settled identities. Each offers us fresh insight into God: into divine Love and Be-ing, which can never be confined to any one identity, time or place. As one of my favourite memes has it, ‘God is always transitioning’ – or at least, our understanding of God. As, and when, we grasp that, we also share in transfiguring Love…
"What's in a name?”, said Juliet: “That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare’s famous lines speak of the power of names and designations. He presents Juliet, on her balcony, musing on the rose as a metaphor, in the context of her love for Romeo and the intense, age-old, conflict between two tribes - the Capulets (Juliet’s mob) and the Montagues (Romeo’s mob). Juliet proclaims that names have no ultimate meaning, other than those which people are willing to give them. As she puts it, in reference to Romeo: “Tis but thy name that is my enemy…. What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot/ Nor arm, nor face. O be some other name/ Belonging to a man.” We do not, says Juliet here, have to be controlled by our names, by our tribes. We can choose how to live with them, and, in love, transcend them. Of course, Shakespeare’s story of the young lovers ends in tragedy. It is challenging to live with, and beyond, our names, our tribal identities. It can bring misunderstanding, opposition, and much worse. Yet is this not the path of true love, in the fullest dimensions of those words? Certainly, as we come today to bless our beautiful new interfaith banner, we do so in awareness of that same call to honour the different names of God, and not to let them control and divide us. For in the depth of all the world’s great wisdom traditions, true love, divine love, is not simply about reaffirming what is valuable in our tribal identities. True love is also about walking paths of inner and outer transformation together…
Do you identify with the conversion of Saul, later re-named Paul, which we hear read today? It does not fit us all. Yet it is certainly a striking story, which has powerfully influenced some, especially evangelical, Christian traditions. Indeed, it has sometimes become a classic model for becoming a Christian. It speaks, for example, of a remarkable repentance – or turning around, which is really what repentance means. It speaks of whole-hearted, whole-self transformation of life in Christ; and, above all, it speaks of the transforming power of God’s love and grace. All of this, we may say, are indeed important aspects of Christian Faith, and, as such, the story challenges us, like Saul/Paul, to consider the direction in which we are traveling and what is drawing us and companioning us on the way. All of these things also go to the heart of the sacrament of baptism which we were planning to share this morning. Unfortunately this has had to be postponed due to the baptismal candidate having contracted COVID-19. Nonetheless, it is still worth us reflecting today on the sacraments of baptism and of communion, which we do share together this morning. For, like Saul’s conversion, what do we make of them? How does God’s grace work through them, and in particular moments of our lives?…
One of my favourite contemporary spiritual songs is that which we heard before the beginning of our worship today – ‘I Am Mountain’ by Gungor (see YouTube link above). The lyrics are evocative of both rich ancient understandings and the best insights of modern life and science. They speak of profound presence, of the immanence and transcendence of the divine. They direct us to the heart of the life-giving spirituality of this Season of Creation. For, in Gungor's words, and ancient Christian orthodoxy proclaims, ‘there’s glory’ (‘beauty’ and ‘mystery’) in the dirt.’ As Christian, and other mystics, have affirmed, there’s ‘a universe within the sand, eternity within’ a human being. Often, we may indeed feel ourselves to be ‘wandering in skin and soul/ Searching, longing for a home’. Yet in truth, in memorable phrases, we are invited to see ourselves as:
Momentary carbon stories
From the ashes
Filled with holy ghost
In the face of the climate emergency, we are also called, by ‘the light’, to ‘fight, fight for our lives’ - as we have also explored, particularly in last week’s reflections and discussions. However, above all, we are encouraged to acknowledge more deeply the wonder of the divine existence we share. For we are intimately related to our extraordinary world. All metaphors, as Gungor says, then begin to break down in the face of this astounding mystery and reality, as:
Life is here now
Breathe it all in
Let it all go
You are earth and wind…
Three things immediately struck me in recently moving back to work again in the centre of Sydney. Firstly, so many of the high buildings had either grown even higher or had multiplied in number. Secondly, particularly in the adjacent areas north and west of Pitt Street Uniting Church, different Asian shops and cultures continue to grow in number. An official Koreatown now sits close to Chinatown, and other presences, including Malaysian, and particularly Thai, are not far behind. Thirdly, in the suburb where I live, each park has an acknowledgement of country, including the prominent words Budyeri gamarruwa – ‘welcome’ in Gadigal language. Each of these things are redolent to me of both the challenges, and the promise, of Pentecost today. For if we are to receive the Spirit of God more fully - replacing hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, and becoming one body in this land - these are part of the journey we make…
What is an 'indecent' body to you? Marcella Althaus-Reid, one of the most stimulating of modern theologians, posed this question vibrantly. Her best known book, entitled Indecent Theology, challenged us to reconsider how we see and talk about bodies - especially female, sexually and gender diverse, poor and colonised bodies - all which have been treated as ‘indecent’. This, for me, is certainly at the heart of a healthy understanding of gender identity, and, crucially, affirms the gifts which gender diverse people have for the whole body of Christ and the whole body of society and our planet. It also takes us to the heart of 1 Corinthians chapter 12, where St Paul specifically commends us to honour the ‘weaker’, ‘less honourable’, ‘less respectable’ members of the Body of Christ. For, as Paul affirms, these ‘indecent’ members are ‘indispensable’, requiring ‘greater’ honour and respect...
our need for 'unusual kindness'
What spirit do we need to renew our lives, nation, and world at this time, and what might our prayers for Christian Unity have to share in this?
It is very helpful to think about the beginning of Jesus’s ministry from the perspective of Peter’s mother-in-law. For her story, like those of so many women in the Bible and Christian tradition, tends to get passed over and forgotten. Yet today's text involving her includes, in three verses, three of the most foundational words in the history of the early church. They are very obvious in Greek, rather easier to miss in English. So what are these words?...
I love being trans. How about you? No, I am not so much speaking about being transgender, as about simply being human, or at least a Christian variety thereof: in other words, about being a person who is transfiguring. That is each and every one of us. This is not to downplay the significance of someone being transgender, or otherwise. After all, we still have some way to go in working through that. The particularity of each of our human lives really matters. Each transgender life and story is also unique: a special creation in God’s love. Yet, the more I reflect upon it, in a powerful sense, in the divine economy, being transgender is also a way of helping us all recognise that each of us is continually invited to embrace transfiguration. For, as human beings, as Christians, we are never fixtures but loved works in process. What we shall be is not what we are now. All that is loving in our past and present is indeed taken up into what we shall be. In the glory of God however, we are, and will be, so much than we can ever imagine. This is part of the gift of the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ which we celebrate today…
renewing God's inclusion
One of the most memorable, transforming, and ultimately deeply poignant sermons I ever heard was at theological college, over thirty years ago, when I was what we now call a formation student. The address was given by an American student who was with us for a short while. It was on the subject of Peter’s dream in the Acts of the Apostles and the remarkable turnaround in the early Church which we hear about in Acts chapter 15 today. Far from being remote events, my fellow student brought them alive in an intensely powerful way. This, you may understand, was during the last tumultuous days of controversy before the ordination of women in the Church of England and in the first real stirrings of pain and freedom among LGBTIQ+ people across the world. Yet, challenging though those things were, and still are some even today, they are nothing, my fellow student pointed out, to the radical transformation we find in these texts from Acts. For centuries, almost forever really, we, the Gentiles, with our characteristics and our lifestyles, lay outside full inclusion in the body of God’s community. Yet Paul, Peter, and even James, the bulwark of Jewish Christian foundations, came to welcome us as equals in the life of salvation. In contrast, how much lesser such a conversion is asked of us, said my fellow student. So can we, as Peter, as Church, embrace today those who also who, like the Gentiles long ago, not only come to us, but even flourish among us, against the odds, against our human-fashioned, provisional rules?...
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney