how do you want the story to end?
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?...
who is hooked?
I thought today we might play with the ideas of hooks and fishing; of hooking and being hooked; of catching alive and who is to be caught.
Our beautiful weaving here in church today (see image left) and photographed on the front of this week’s worship booklet reminds us that fish and fishing are woven into the story of Jesus from the beginning. Indeed, it is believed some early Christians made eucharist with bread and fish rather than bread and wine – probably not a great choice in the Australian sun and I hate to think what the COVID regulations would make of that idea! But there is no getting away from the fact that some of the first disciples of Jesus made a living from fishing.
but what do YOU say?
Some questions require more of us than others. So it is with the central question Jesus asks in today’s Gospel: ‘but who do you say I am?’ It is typical Jesus, isn’t it? Rather than dictate or demand, he invites. Leaders, not least spiritual leaders, take note. Jesus is not giving, or expecting, a set answer. Rather they are challenging us to make our own response. As such, they are calling us into deeper relationship, by drawing us into the most profound experiences of our bodies, hearts and minds. Nor is this a once and for all answer to be made. For, as we meet again today, Jesus is asking us once more, as individuals and as a community, ‘but who do you say that I am?’. What answers have we to give?...
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...
catching big fish
The great and much maligned former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, used to say, “We are not up to it, but thank God, God gets down to it.” Today we have heard the stories of three quite ordinary people, Isaiah, Paul and Peter, who did not feel up to it; yet by the grace of God, they found themselves caught up in God’s work; despite their own feelings of weakness and inadequacy.
I don’t know what your own experience has been, but I have certainly learned that following God's call is not a single event. Rather it is a life - long process filled with much failure punctuated with occasional bright points of something that felt like ‘success’, but not success as most people would measure it...
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?...
even on the way to Birmingham
When are where did you receive a ‘call’ to a new ministry in the Church? Did it come gradually upon you, or was there a particular turning point? For what it is worth, in my case it has probably happened over a period of time. However I do remember getting on a train in rural Lincolnshire to travel to Birmingham to stay with some friends. Such a cross-country journey can often be a little grueling, for UK train lines which do not involve London are typically less speedy and more complicated. So it was that five hours of stop and starts provided me with plenty of time for reflection, at the end of which a new sense of vocation had been planted in me. If Margaret Thatcher had no time for the old nationally owned British Rail, God clearly did! In what way though, if any, do our own calls to ministry compare with those of the disciples in today’s Gospel (Luke 5.1-11)?...
who do you say that I am?
‘Who do you say that I am?’ Jesus’ question to the disciples is one for all of us, isn’t it? Indeed, if you are like me, it is a question you will answer in different ways at different times. Sometimes that may feel like a growing and deepening sense of who Jesus Christ is. At other times it may feel like a peeling away, and even a painful deconstruction, of old or unsatisfying patterns of understanding. Either way, my own sense is that if we are not continually being transformed by a transfiguring understanding of God in Jesus Christ then we have largely missed the point of the journey of faith. That was Peter’s mistake, wasn’t it? Today we only hear about his great confession of Christ and of gifts Jesus bequeathes to him. This passage is immediately followed however by Jesus’ powerful rejection of Peter’s failure to understand him and his calling. ‘Get behind me Satan!’, Jesus cries out. For the Christ Peter had seen, and wonderfully declared, was not the full picture he needed to see. So it is in our own lives, in the church and world today…
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