Today’s Gospel reading is a very rich passage, full of extraordinary metaphors, story and meaning. It includes, for example, that powerful central affirmation of Christian Faith that God so loved the world that they sent their Beloved One that all who believe may have eternal life. Note well the heart of this good news: that God loves the world so much that all who believe – not just the doctrinally righteous, or the ethically conservative, but all may have eternal life. For the God we celebrate today is the God of unlimited, inexhaustible, love. As our Gospel text says, Christ comes among us not for condemnation, but for love and salvation. Let us therefore affirm again that you, we, all of us, are loved. The Gospel, our Good News, invites us to claim this, and live it. All of which brings us, in this passage, to the person of Nicodemus, and to light, and darkness…
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…
My wife Penny and I met at theological college. It was certainly not love at first sight. I was quite introverted, not trying to give away much of who I was, and Penny – well, Penny was very nervous and came across as a terrible caricature of an English middle-class blue stocking type of woman: think, those of you who can remember back that far, of Joyce Grenfell in the old St Trinian’s films. Our college was overwhelmingly full of men, with this being only the second year a handful of women had been admitted. So, when I met Penny in the first hour or so after arriving, I thought: ‘well, if this is how the women are here, I am simply not going to survive!’ I guess that was one factor in our initial relationship: sheer survival in an age and culture still trying to come to terms with the equality of women as a whole, never mind wider gender diversity. It was an earlier reminder that, if Penny and I were to minister, it would be as salt. We would be adding fresh flavour to both the Church and the wider world, seeking to provide healing or simply preservation for some of us, and, from time to time, perhaps irritating others into whose wounds we might be placed to aid healing. Maybe some will have views on how well, or otherwise, we have done that so far. Our hope and prayer is, in the words of Jesus in our Gospel reading today, that we, with others, will never lose out saltiness…
let go, let grow, let glitter
A conversational Reflection by Penny Jones, with Josephine Inkpin, on the invitation and challenges of the Beatitudes of Jesus in our contemporary context...
blooming with justice and joy
Christmas-time is so often a confluence of loss and gain. So many of us find that good and tough memories are tangled up. My parents died a year ago this weekend, just as a new child was conceived in my immediate family: a child who will therefore be a new gift among us this Christmas. Yet it is hardly the first time that death and birthing have been entwined. Reflecting on that helps me better understand today’s Gospel and not least Mary’s extraordinary cry of justice, and of joy. As Alla Renee Bozarth brilliantly expresses it in her poem Annunciation, it is a cry of subversive angelic power. No wonder the three large ‘queer’ angels we will shortly welcome from Lismore’s LIghtnUp project are entitled Courage, Compassion, and Joy. For, as Lismore’s wonderful community artist Jyllie Jackson has identified, Courage, Compassion and Joy are core life-giving elements, not only to Queer Pride. They also, vitally, flow out of the Gospel and Magnificat of Mary, and, as Jyllie suggests to us, they are at the core of what the Way of Jesus, and our particular community, is and can be…
So, angels are coming. How will we greet them? At once, perhaps we start to ponder: but what are we greeting? And are there such things as angels anyway? Modernity’s functional materialism has so much to answer for! From a Reformed Christian perspective today it is also sometimes hard to engage. For whilst the classic Reformed theologians were quite clear that angels are to be taken very seriously, as they appear in so many places in the Bible. Yet later thinkers have found less value. In some quarters of liberal and progressive Protestantism they almost became erased: rejected with supposedly passé doctrines like the virgin birth, miracles and even major articles of the historic creeds. Ironically, as liberal Protestantism declined, other faith constructions began to thrive, not least New Age spiritualities with their extraordinary mix of angelic and other speculations. Did demythologising thereby open the door to old heresies? - as well as to a loss of divine wonder in the secular world? Certainly, as Les Murray pondered in his poem ‘The Barranong Angel Case’, which we heard read earlier, do we have the capacity to see and receive the angels of Christian tradition today?
opening the gate to abundant life
If I was to ask any group of Christians what titles for Jesus they knew and used most, what do you think they/we would come up with? Lord and Christ would probably be the first titles in the list, followed by others such as Saviour, Shepherd, Brother, Friend, Son of God, Son of Man and so on. The Way, the Truth and the Life, together with the Bread of Life, would also be likely to get an early look in. What about Gate, or the Gate, though? I reckon that would pretty low down the list, don’t you? Yet, Gate is a very important title for Jesus, and, arguably, a key title often honoured very much in the breach down the Christian centuries. For, let’s face it, Christians have spent an inordinate amount of time using Jesus as a means, a gate, to exclude and keep people out, or to stop one another going out, and, in the words of Jesus in our Gospel reading tonight, finding good pasture. We don’t even have to be members of the LGBTIQA+ community to know that such gatekeeping is so very much still alive and with us in both our world and its Churches. This is such a great shame, not simply because of the harm caused, but because, as John’s Jesus proclaims, the Gate of Christ is precisely created to open up our lives and world to deeper meaning and more loving relationships. One of the vital gifts of Queer theology and Queer Church spaces is therefore to share Jesus as the Gate to life in all its fullness, and for the followers of Jesus to become ever more alive signs of that holy abundance. That, at least, is at the heart of my reflections on this wonderful bible passage (John chapter 10, verses 7-10) which we just heard…
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…
queering the mantle
The stories of the great biblical prophets are certainly extraordinary, not least those of Elijah and Elisha. As Penny said last week, in some ways such biblical narratives are really top cartoon action stuff. That is certainly true of our story from the Hebrew Scriptures today. This contains powerful features which have had enduring value in faith communities, and elements which have been overlooked. There has also always been a good deal of tidying up, and ignoring, of some aspects of the narratives. For one thing we can assuredly say about the prophets is that they are not comfortable figures. We see this too in the story of Jesus which we will come to later. After all, as we have just sung, in John Bell’s words, Jesus is a ‘provocative preacher’, an ‘itinerant teacher‘, and an ‘outsider’s friend’. Be clear about that if you want to follow Jesus – all things may be up for grabs and turned upside down. To put it another way, your life and world may be profoundly queered...
In recent years some of my Aboriginal friends have said to me that they do not really believe in the Australian concept of Reconciliation and some of the activities, like Reconciliation Action Plans, which have accompanied it. Meanwhile some Church leaders have said to me that they do not see much point in engaging actively in ecumenical endeavours. So why, we might ask, are we marking the Week of Prayer for Reconciliation and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this morning? Actually I did wonder about changing the title on the front of our liturgy sheet today to ‘Prayer for Just Relationships and Communion in Christian Diversity’. That, for me, would be at least part acknowledgment of the difficulties of the words Reconciliation and Christian Unity and the need for re-imagining as well as building on the good work of the past. However I have left Reconciliation and Christian Unity in the title for the present, so we honour where we have traveled. Nonetheless, as we hear our two readings this morning (from Revelation chapter 22 and John chapter 17), we do well to reflect more deeply on the words and constructions we may use in order that we share in more fruitful pathways for our work together with others. For that purpose I also offer you the cartoon meme entitled the #4thBox, as an encouragement to deeper prayer, more imaginative reflection and more creative action…
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney