|Pen and Ink Reflections||
The contemporary mystic Andrew Harvey once wrote that ‘the things that ignore us save us in the end. Their presence awakens silence in us.’ I have been pondering this week whether this is what all wild places have in common, whether they be the Australian outback, other deserts, mountain places or wilderness forest. Regardless of the particularity of their wildness, wild places ignore us – in a healthy and health-giving way. In a wild place we cease, as human creations, to be at the centre of our own worldview and become aware of all that is beyond us. As the American Presbyterian theologian Belden C. Lane expresses it in his great work “The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: exploring desert and mountain spirituality”: 'There is an unaccountable solace that fierce landscapes offer to the soul. They heal, as well as mirror, the brokenness we find within.' When we find ourselves bereft of human company and resources, then we find ourselves in a place to let go of the demands of ego, the trivialities of our everyday lives, and to receive something of the incalculable and transforming presence of God...
As I feel sure many of you will remember, in the Monty Python movie “Life of Brian”, Jesus at one point is discovered by Brian teaching the people. There is a huge crowd gathered around him – very much as described in our passage today – so huge that some of the people on the outer edge of the crowd cannot hear what he is saying. As Jesus pronounces what have become known as the Beatitudes -the declaration of those who are blessed – one of the characters in the movie, desperate to know what Jesus is saying asks a man ahead of him in the crowd, ‘what is he saying – what’s he saying.’ The man checks with someone in front of him, who in turn checks with someone else and then the message is relayed back, rather as in the game of Chinese whispers - “The Master says, “Blessed are the cheesemakers”
Well that was obviously a joke! – but it also a good reminder to us about how easily we misunderstand what Jesus has said, and how often we misunderstand about blessing. I was talking with you last week a little bit about the dangers of the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ and about how it is easy to assume that when things are going well God is blessing us and conversely when things are hard that somehow, we have lost God’s favour. There really could not be a clearer reversal of that thinking than today’s Gospel passage (Luke 6.17-26)...
Unlike the somewhat gentler version of the Beatitudes in Matthew’s account, Luke's account of Jesus’s core teaching leaves us in little doubt of his bias to the poor. He declares as blessed exactly those whom most of us would account as unfortunate, and pronounces woes on all those who like most of us, enjoy a comfortable life. It is small wonder then that the first followers of Jesus were mostly poor, slaves, disenfranchised and disabled. I wonder if we, comfortable western Christians, really believe him...
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…
This Sunday's Gospel story is about self offering. It invites a question. What is the quality of our offering to God?
Indeed we can ask about any offering we make to God three questions - is it generous? Is it genuine? And is it gentle? Mary's offering in this story is all three...
by Jon Inkpin for Sunday 16 November 2014
There are, sadly, many reasons why I dislike the current owner of Newcastle United Football Club. Sometimes it seems as if he deliberately seeks to offend. Maybe it is too easy. After all, Newcastle United fans are among the most passionate you will ever find. We tend to wear out hearts on our sleeves and, consequently, we suffer the consequences when we are abused. Of everything Mike Ashley has done however, the most offensive, for me, is the selling of of the Newcastle shirt. For Wonga, the main sponsor’s name on the shirt, is the name of a British payday loan company: a moneylender, which, to be quite blunt, rips off the poor. Wonga has thus often wreaked havoc in the lives of many people in Newcastle upon Tyne and its surrounding area, the poorest region of England. As a ‘short-term, high-cost credit’ moneylender, Wonga indeed quickly became a by-word for exploitation. Its interest charged can sometimes equate to an annual percentage rate of more than 5000%. For this reason, not for nothing did the Archbishop of Canterbury not so long ago launch an Anglican campaign against such moneylenders, offering Church of England facilities to community-organised credit unions as a constructive alternative. In doing so, Justin Welby was following the example of Jesus, and, arguably, though perhaps surprisingly to some, embodying the parable we have just heard. For he was addressing the great, usually forgotten, sin of usury: a vital issue for us all, not least at this time of the G20 meeting in Brisbane…