|Pen and Ink Reflections||
I thought it might be helpful this morning to bring along a favourite bowl of mine. It was made by an artist friend Kerry Holland, whose paintings and bowl sculptures on the theme of The Visitation is currently on exhibition in Pitt Street Uniting Church. She also made this one, which she gave to me as a gift when I came out as transgender, affirming my authentic gender identity a few years ago. It is precious to me for that reason but also because, like all of Kerry’s bowl sculptures it is unique, with its own particular shape, story, and constellation of colours. In that sense, it is like each human being: an exquisitely unique and special divine creation. The more I reflect upon that, and upon the nature of a bowl itself, the more I am also drawn into the love of God. So I would like to share with you some ways in which each of us might helpfully use a bowl as a prayerful way into appreciating ourselves and others and holding together what can easily be misused in the Gospel parable (Matthew 25.31ff) which we heard read just now. For, whilst that passage is in some ways quite straightforward in the challenge it offers us, it is also presents some questions, particularly in the way it divides people into two black and white binary groups, one of which receives blessed things and the other total condemnation…
What do sheep and shepherds mean to you? They are very much part of my story but I often struggle with them theologically in my context today. This photo is from Forest-in-Teesdale, near where I was born. Indeed, the farm in the centre is one I knew years ago, working with local farmers on pressing issues of rural stress and suicide, social and economic survival, and other faith and environmental issues. For sheep and good shepherding, literally and spiritually, is crucial to the Durham Dales. High on the roof of England, though we once had the greatest silver mine in the world, even subsistence mining of many important minerals is now near impossible. The great hunting lodges of bishops and kings have gone, disappearing with the remaining tree cover swept from the fells. Only occasional rich people’s grouse shooting really accompanies sheep today, together with the ambiguous harvest of tourists sampling one of England’s last wildernesses. Shepherds, particularly on the highest ground, therefore remain heroic figures to me: extraordinarily resilient, weathering so many vicissitudes; and, above all, deeply, intimately, connected to their/my land and its communities. No wonder Cuthbert, the greatest saint of the North, began life as a shepherd. Sheep, and good shepherding, are part of the lifeblood of my native people. What however of other peoples? In these lands now called Australia colonial society was notoriously built ‘on the sheep’s back’. Whilst that was lifeblood for some, for others it meant the blood of death and dispossession. For in the pioneering work of John Macarthur and others, the sheep was arguably a weapon of mass destruction, and shepherds key players in frontier warfare. So what kind of shepherd do we value today?...
Little Johnny was upset. He really wanted the part of Joseph in the school nativity play, but the teacher had given the part to Stephen instead. Johnny was given the role of the innkeeper. All he had to say was, “There’s no room in my inn. But you can have the stable round the back if you like.” Over the weeks of rehearsals, Johnny plotted his revenge. The day of the play came, and Stephen in his role as Joseph knocked on the door of the inn. When Johnny as innkeeper opened the door, Joseph asked, ‘Have you a room for us? My wife is about to have a baby and is very tired.” Johnny beamed and replied, “Of course, come right along in, I’ll get the best bed made up!” ……………But Joseph was not to be put off. With great presence of mind, he looked through the doorway, and turned back holding his nose announcing, “This place is not fit for my wife. We’ll go round the back and sleep in the stable!”
We all know the stories of the inn, the inn keeper and the stable. People have been having fun with them, elaborating them and generally using their imaginations for centuries, certainly since the medieval mystery plays gave a starring comic role to the inn keeper. But the truth is that none of them is actually in the Biblical narrative – itself an imaginative tour de force – or at least the inn might be there, but probably not really.
One of things I’m thankful for in my years of ministry is the memorial cross I helped install in the Warriors Chapel in St Luke’s Church Toowoomba. It remembers the battle of Meewah, otherwise known as One Tree Hill, or Table Top Mountain. This was part of the devastating Frontier Wars in this country. It was led, on the Aboriginal side, by the great warrior Multuggerah and part of deep, and extraordinary skilled, schemes of resistance. It is intimately connected to the continuing debilitating impact of colonial dispossession. Without remembering and reconciling, such deep wounds endure. Yet so little of this story is named or reflected upon. In contrast, on this day (25 April), the awful pain of the Gallipoli landings is recalled: often, in recent years, with exceptional noise and attention. Why is it that some stories become enduring, and even ever enlarged, myths, whilst others, no less historically significant, are hidden or left to fester? How do we best make peace with our past? And how do myths and memories of faith distract or assist?
Taking up today’s Gospel (Luke 15.1-10), I want to speak about three things: queer sheep, the value of women’s coins, and rainbow repentance; about how queer sheep need revaluing; about how women’s coins challenge Church and world to rainbow repentance; and about how rainbow repentance involves renewing pride in queer sheep. Firstly though, let me speak of a cartoon highlighting these themes. For, like a good picture, an insightful cartoon can paint a thousand words…
There are two titles for this Sunday in the lectionary, namely Christ the King or the Reign of Christ. Which do you prefer? Think about it for a moment. Have a look too at today’s two New Testament readings (Colossians 1.11-20 and Luke 23.33-43). They also have different emphases. Which of these would you choose for preference? The answer of course is that both of these are valuable and balance one another. Yet, as with the title of this Sunday, there is a genuine tension between them and, in wrestling with this tension, we are led into a deeper understanding of God and our relationship with God and one another…
I want to speak about three things which jump out from our Gospel reading today. I want to speak about fish, faith and forgiveness: about how fish flow out from faith; about how faith flows from forgiveness; and about how forgiveness flows from being a fish. First of all however, let me ask a question: where do you picture today’s Gospel story happening? What kind of a boat is it that sets out fishing? What do the people in the boat and on the shore look like? And what does the beach look like to you? Let us close our eyes for a moment and see if we can picture those elements of our story in our mind’s eye. Maybe we can also hear the sounds, and the smells, of the beach and the sea, the movement of the boat and the waves, the crackle of the fire, the voices of Jesus and the disciples. Let us stop for a moment and try to see, and feel…