The clergy of the Uniting Church of Australia are obliged to agree that they will baptise new members in ‘the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. It is one of really only a handful of non-negotiables. So, why? What does this mean? And what matters about this particular attempt at describing God?...
One of my grandchildren was particularly fascinated when I was in England in December. She was trying to grasp how it was night with me when it was daytime in Australia, and how it was so warm here and so cold where I was. One day, she had it sorted. Speaking to Penny on the phone, she loudly proclaimed ‘GranJo is upside down!’ I am not sure whether she thought that I was standing or walking on my head. However, in more than one sense, she was right - not least spiritually. After all, as Acts of the Apostles chapter 17 reminds us, like other early Christians, Paul and Silas were accused of ‘turning the world upside down’. It remains part of our Christian calling and sits well with the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, otherwise known as the feast of Candlemas, which we mark today. Wherever, or whoever, we are in the world, we are all called to ‘live upside down’ in spiritual terms…
I have to admit that my night vision is pretty terrible. In fact, I avoid driving at night for this very reason. I know I should be exercising my eyes and eating more vitamin A, but the reality is that I have never been able to see very well at night and age is only making things worse. I am not asleep – I just don’t see too well in the dark. But being awake and seeing in the dark are key to today’s gospel reading...
Today on Good Friday we affirm the infinite Love of God displayed in the crucifixion of Jesus - not as a metaphysical transaction to change God from punishing us (as if), but as a witness to the love of God for us at all times, even when we have gone astray or are caught in webs of evil. Sadly too many Christians speak of a punishing God, with disastrous spiritual and practical consequences. That is partly understandable from some past inherited thinking in Christian traditions. It is however a partial way of looking at the cross which is not only destructive but wholly unnecessary theologically.
The Franciscan tradition - not least through the great theologian John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) - is in contrast one which has always encouraged us to focus on the infinite Love of God, displayed in the cross as in all other aspects of creation and salvation. As Richard Rohr among others has recently reminded us, if God “needed” a blood sacrifice to love God’s own creation, then God was not freely loving us. For the Franciscans, 'Jesus was not changing God’s mind about us; he was changing our minds about God. If God and Jesus are not violent or vindictive, then our excuse for the same is forever taken away from us. If God is punitive and torturing however, then we have permission to do the same. Thus grew much of the church’s violent history.'
W.H.Vanstone put this beautifully in his great poem and reflection on 'Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense:
Drained is love in making full,
bound in setting others free,
poor in making many rich,
weak in giving power to be.
Therefore he who shows us God
helpless hangs upon the tree;
and the nails and crown of thorns
tell of what God’s love must be.
Here is God: no monarch he,
throned in easy state to reign;
here is God, whose arms of love
aching, spent, the world sustain.
May we know God's Love more deeply this day, and may it transform our lives for the good.
by Jo Inkpin, for Good Friday 10 April 2020
see further: Richard Rohr's reflection - A Nonviolent Atonement
As we gather today at the foot of the cross I would like to invite you to consider the holding and the beholding that happens in the story we have just heard...
I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live for ever. And the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.
Today and tomorrow our morning prayer readings bring us the concluding sections of John's great meditation on Jesus as the Bread of Life, his 'technological upgrade' for the synoptic accounts of the Institution of the Lord's Supper. I am going to invite you in these two brief talks to enter into that core image of the Bread of Life, and reflect on two questions. The first, which we will think about today, is Are We Hungry? And the second, which I will address tomorrow is Are We Willing to be bread? I will begin and end each reflection with a poem, as I believe poetry can speak more powerfully than prose, and I have re-produced copies of those poems for your further delight...
Today we are keeping the feast of the epiphany - not any old epiphany, not the kind of epiphany I have as I am walking along thinking about nothing in particular and then realise what it is I need to cook for dinner- no, THE epiphany, the big one, the one that makes all the others make sense. And what is that exactly? It is when the wisest ones in the world, bring everything the world has to offer - wealth, power and even suffering, disguised as gold, frankincense and myrrh - and lay it all at the feet of a helpless, speechless baby of dubious parentage born in the poorest of circumstances and say ' this is it'! This is Emmanuel - God with us.
Once we understand that epiphany everything else that happens in the life of Jesus Christ and in our lives falls into place. Once we realise, once we truly SEE- because epiphany is always about seeing, about the light bulb moments of our lives - once we truly see that the incarnation is all that truly matters, then everything else makes sense...
'We gather in the darkness of this Christmas night to celebrate - to celebrate that into the midst of darkness comes light and life born in the frailty of a human child. For darkness is where incarnation begins. The glorious prologue to John’s Gospel brings this into shimmering perspective - what has come to being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5). But, as the wonderful poet and artist Jan Richardson expresses it:
'the deepest darkness is the place where God comes to us. In the womb, in the night, in the dreaming; when we are lost, when our world has come undone, when we cannot see the next step on the path; in all the darkness that attends our life, whether hopeful darkness or horrendous, God meets us. God’s first priority is not to do away with the dark but to be present to us in it. I will give you the treasures of darkness, God says in Isaiah 45:3, and riches hidden in secret places. For the Christ who was born two millennia ago, for the Christ who seeks to be born in us this day, the darkness is where incarnation begins'...
for St Mark’s Day, 27 April 2014 , by Jonathan Inkpin
Of what are you afraid? All of us are afraid, of something, in some ways, at some points in our lives. It is all part of being human. Even Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, appears to have wrestled with his own fears, as he waited to be arrested, tried, and cruelly killed. Yet, as Jesus above all showed us, perfect love casts out fear (I John 4.18). The Resurrection is the greatest proclamation of this reality. For all fears are taken up in the cross of Jesus. All fears are transformed by the perfect love of God shown to us. And all fears are declared void by the power of the Resurrection offered to us. Will we grasp this however? Our Gospel reading today is the Resurrection story according to St. Mark (chapter 16, verses 1-8). It is an extraordinary ending to Mark’s Gospel, for it doesn’t really end at all, properly in literary terms. It just stops, literally, in mid-sentence, and invites us to respond. For we are told that the women at the tomb were both asked by Jesus to share the Gospel and they were grasped by fear. So what is our response? Are we grasped by a similar fear? How will we complete the Gospel which St. Mark gives to us?...
Lent 5A, Sunday 6 April 2014, by Jonathan Inkpin
This week I met an interesting woman called Viki Thondley. Among other things, she runs a business in Toowoomba, called Mind, Body, Food. As a holistic therapist, she thereby offers others opportunities to address the stresses of our bodies and lives so that we can all enjoy greater wellbeing. She invites us to look into ourselves and our lifestyles to let go of those things which hurt and to open ourselves to those which heal. In that way, as we understand better the intimate connections between our minds, bodies and food, we can find greater health and confidence. For it is as we better understand who we are, what we think, and what we feel, that we can grow in energy and empowerment. She herself is a good example. For like many great healers, Viki speaks from what she knows. As she has addressed her own self, her past and continuing wounds, so her being and actions speak volumes about the healing path.
Now, whilst she has wide understanding of much of the contemplative wisdom traditions of our world, Viki mainly works on the level of the natural. She is thereby accessible to many secular people, and to estranged Christians, who might find our Church’s paths to healing less easy to access. Yet this healing journey is at the heart of our Gospel, not least in the great story we have heard today. For our Gospel story today opens us up to what the 20th century Anglican monk, Father Harry Williams, called ‘true resurrection’...