|Pen and Ink Reflections||
What value does the book of Revelation have for us, especially in the face of ecological crises? My guess is that most of us have not spent too much time on the Bible’s last book. Some people of course have, including those looking for a special secret code to life and history, and those puzzling out different timetables for Christ’s second coming. Such interpreters however typically have little concern for ecology, and some even welcome signs of environmental apocalypse. Faced by the strangeness of John the Divine’s visions, we may therefore be tempted to dispense with the book altogether. Yet that would be a mistake. For, as this morning’s reading (ch.12 vv. 1-9 & 13-17a) illustrates, truth and light can be received in the strangest places…
.A number of years ago, Penny and I were exploring the possibility of employment with a wonderful pioneering female bishop. In the course of her hospitality she introduced us to a fellow, nearby, bishop in case he also had a parish to offer us to work in. He however took one brief look at us, and, at once, abruptly asked ‘do you believe in the Resurrection?’ It was said in a very demanding, and almost accusatory, tone. Taken aback though we were, we actually responded very well, saying together, and in a somewhat incredulous tone, ‘why yes, of course!’ The bishop was nonetheless not at all impressed and exited immediately. For, of course, his question was not one to which he really expected an answer, or at least one in which he was actually interested. Like the notorious enquiry ‘when did you stop hitting your wife?’, it was a deliberately loaded question, containing its own assumptions. Like the Sadducees’ question to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, it was also not really about resurrection at all. How often, I wonder, are our own questions like that too? When we talk in faith spaces, how much do our own interests intrude? How do we keep open to the mystery of resurrection?...
Almost a hundred years ago, a notable book of English Modernist theological essays was published. One leading conservative voiced a classic critique. The book, he said, was a typical example of liberals thinking less about God and far too much about a secular audience. Liberals, he alleged, are constantly asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ – Jones being the name for the supposed average person in the street. The response from the editor of the book was swift. ‘I am not asking what Jones will swallow’, he retorted, ‘I am Jones themselves, asking what there is to eat.’ For there is a big difference, isn’t there? The idea of asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ is undoubtedly a conservative prejudgment of liberal intentions. Yet it can be one unfortunate dynamic in faith circles, sadly leading down the path of reductionism and beyond. Asking ‘what is there to eat?’ is a much more radical and open question, possibly leading even to revisiting aspects of diets left aside in the past. For a self-confessed ‘progressive’ church like Pitt Street Uniting Church, it is certainly a question which needs to be at the heart of our healthy spiritual pathways. After all, as the missionary theologian D.T. Niles once memorably said, sharing the Good News is essentially about ‘one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.’ So what does this food look like today? And what does our reading this morning from John’s Gospel have to say? For John chapter 6 is a lengthy excursus on the bread of life, and how it may be found, or not. What challenges, and opportunities, does this raise for us, as individuals, and as a community together, at this stage in our development?...
How many of us know Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? It is a fabulous story, both for children, and adults. Indeed, apart from being a delightful work of imagination, it is, the scholars say, full of social satire. Today we will struggle to identify all the political and religious connections, but some are still relevant. Consider for instance the words of the White Queen, when Alice asserts that she can’t believe in impossible things. "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." The author, Lewis Carroll, who was himself a clergyman, may perhaps be satirising the Church at this point. Sometimes, he seems to being saying, the Church can imply that Christian Faith involves trying to believe, and digest, a whole number of strange things. Isn’t that a truth of how the Church has sometimes carried on? Poor old Galileo, Darwin, and other great scientists, have, for example, sometimes got it in the neck when the Church has closed its mind to reason and insisted on impossible things – like the idea of the sun orbiting the earth, rather than vice versa, or insisting on theories of special creation rather than evolution. Well, the Christian Faith does involve far more than we can touch and measure. Yet it does not require us to swallow impossible things. Faith and Reason, spirit and mind, are supposed to be critical friends, not implacable enemies. Much more importantly, as our Gospel reading tells us today, whilst vital, neither Faith nor Reason are the heart of things. Only love – the love we see in Jesus – is the be all and end all…