Growing up, even as a little child I was fascinated by what was then known as the English Civil War (although, to be accurate historically, this is now rightly recognised as several different wars across the islands of Britain and Ireland). It was a bitter and brutal period, culminating in the judicial trial and execution of the King. For this was a powerful revolution. Indeed it saw the establishment of a republic, the Commonwealth and Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. Moreover, in that latter period there was also an extraordinary flowering of truly radical religious and political life and thought. That, I think, was what especially drew me into the study of history. For the origin of many liberal democratic things we take for granted lie there – for example, the insistence on no taxation or legislation without representation, on regular elections, fixed parliamentary terms, equal votes, and, vitally, on religious freedom for different types of groups, particularly the marginalised. Indeed, Cromwell even reopened England to the Jews, who had been banned for centuries. For his supporters were also part of the movements which helped create Congregationalism, the original founding tradition of Pitt Street Uniting Church...
One of my favourite contemporary spiritual songs is that which we heard before the beginning of our worship today – ‘I Am Mountain’ by Gungor (see YouTube link above). The lyrics are evocative of both rich ancient understandings and the best insights of modern life and science. They speak of profound presence, of the immanence and transcendence of the divine. They direct us to the heart of the life-giving spirituality of this Season of Creation. For, in Gungor's words, and ancient Christian orthodoxy proclaims, ‘there’s glory’ (‘beauty’ and ‘mystery’) in the dirt.’ As Christian, and other mystics, have affirmed, there’s ‘a universe within the sand, eternity within’ a human being. Often, we may indeed feel ourselves to be ‘wandering in skin and soul/ Searching, longing for a home’. Yet in truth, in memorable phrases, we are invited to see ourselves as:
Momentary carbon stories
From the ashes
Filled with holy ghost
In the face of the climate emergency, we are also called, by ‘the light’, to ‘fight, fight for our lives’ - as we have also explored, particularly in last week’s reflections and discussions. However, above all, we are encouraged to acknowledge more deeply the wonder of the divine existence we share. For we are intimately related to our extraordinary world. All metaphors, as Gungor says, then begin to break down in the face of this astounding mystery and reality, as:
Life is here now
Breathe it all in
Let it all go
You are earth and wind…
Three things immediately struck me in recently moving back to work again in the centre of Sydney. Firstly, so many of the high buildings had either grown even higher or had multiplied in number. Secondly, particularly in the adjacent areas north and west of Pitt Street Uniting Church, different Asian shops and cultures continue to grow in number. An official Koreatown now sits close to Chinatown, and other presences, including Malaysian, and particularly Thai, are not far behind. Thirdly, in the suburb where I live, each park has an acknowledgement of country, including the prominent words Budyeri gamarruwa – ‘welcome’ in Gadigal language. Each of these things are redolent to me of both the challenges, and the promise, of Pentecost today. For if we are to receive the Spirit of God more fully - replacing hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, and becoming one body in this land - these are part of the journey we make…
(Jo) What an abundance of rich spiritual images we have in our liturgy today – all trying to capture just a hint of the richness of the Holy Spirit. I wonder which speaks most vividly to you – is it the fire, the wind, the breath, the dove, the tongues, the living bones? Or is it the breathing, the blowing, the swirling, the burning, the dancing, the prophesying? For somehow nouns are never enough for the Spirit – we need the verbs, the present participles that suggest movement, motion, dynamism. One thing is certain, without the Spirit, we as individuals and the church would be stuck – it is the Spirit that moves through our ‘stuckness’ and constantly invites us to the new.
We’re going to explore just a few of the pictures of the Spirit, acknowledging that no one image can ever come close to the fullness of this animating force of the divine. So, where to begin Penny?...
Our little confirmation group had a spirited conversation last week, looking at Scripture and how it came to be formed and how we might now interpret it. We were helped along by the early realisation that most of us have what was described as a ‘pick and MISS’ relationship with scripture. Now if that idea offends you, you might want to shut your ears for a few minutes. What we meant was that not all of scripture nourishes us – and certainly not all of scripture nourishes us all, all of the time. In fact, some of it could be seen as down-right dangerous and bad for our mental health. This brings us to today’s parable – which quite frankly I might have been inclined to put in the ‘miss’ bucket. It is attributed only to Matthew, which might give us pause to begin with, and its sentiments seem to run counter to much of what Jesus says in other places. But here it is in the lectionary, so what are we going to do with it?...
“Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” How fascinating! – the writer’s conviction that the second coming is at hand does not result in a plea for evangelism, or even for love, but rather for gentleness. So, what is to be gentle? The dictionary suggests, kindly, amiable, tender; or with more of a class nuance ‘of good family’ ‘noble’ – from the Old French from which we derive genteel. It is also a verb – ‘to gentle’ means to make less severe or intense, or perhaps to soothe by stroking; to treat with kindness and not cruelty. Gentleness is listed as the eighth of the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5;22. As such it translates the Greek word prautes, which is sometimes rendered ‘meekness’, which has unfortunate connotations in modern English of servility. The Full Life Study Bible defines the word helpfully as ‘restraint coupled with strength and courage’...
Today a very few of us (in line with current health guidelines) gather to baptise Charlotte. And we do so in the face of perhaps the greatest global crisis we shall see in a lifetime. Yet, in some ways, what better time to baptise someone! What better time to remember the great themes of baptism, water, life and light...
One of the great things about theology from the margins is how it brings the Bible alive in liberating ways. Therefore, as the young gay Sydney Anglican Joel Hollier puts it, for many queer folk like he and I, ‘we’re not queer despite the Bible. We’re queer because of the Bible.’ As we read the Bible ‘with queer eyes’, more and more sexually and gender diverse people are renewing the very elements which gave the Bible power in the first place: seeing and exploring the extraordinary diversity and dynamic of goodness in creation and human bodies; the central call to justice and infinite compassion for all; the redeeming power of love in the face of suffering and death; and the resurrection promise of new life and flourishing found in the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the world. That is one reason why, personally, I’m so over the old arguments about sexuality and gender, not least the so-called ‘clobber texts’. Honestly, why on earth would we waste time on others’ hang-ups, when we’ve such good news to explore and share? In this, today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 9.36ff) is a striking example. For in Tabitha/Dorcas, we find a startling model of discipleship from the margins: truly, an evocative, entrepreneurial, exemplar…
I want to talk about being locked shut and about being breathed open. And I want to explore what it might mean, as Jackie will do today (as she comes to baptism as an adult), to begin again.
‘The doors of the house where the disciples met were locked for fear of the Jews’. Those early disciples were a pretty terrified bunch. Even as the possibility that Jesus could be alive was dawning on them, they remained uncertain, afraid of being arrested and killed. It seems to me likely that they met secretly for a long time. The texts of the New Testament compress what was probably a lengthy process, into the shorter units of symbolic time. But whether these things happened over a few hours and days, or many years hardly matters. What matters is that a change occurred and a new beginning became possible...
Feel the breath of God move softly
gentle mists across the skin;
Earth is breathing God’s own spirit,
life renewed from deep within.
Sing a song of living waters,
pulsing through the veins of earth.
These words, from a hymn by the eco-theologian Norm Habel remind us what we all know; that water, especially river water, is sacred; essential to life; the very stuff of which we are made. Our own bodies are largely made up of water as indeed are so many of the creatures on our planet earth. From this vital element and many others, God is continually creating, every day new species, new variants. As Norm Habel has written elsewhere,
“One of the ways that we know God keeps creating you and me and all forms of life is by using the water in rivers. The flowing water in the river we see is indeed the water of life we need to survive. But it is also the very stuff God uses to create in the cycle of creation. The same waters of the Flood and the Ice Age are the very waters God uses to give us life, to create. There is a finite amount of H2O on Earth, whether it is in the form of water, ice or moisture. And the fragments of H20, the little bits of water, are re-cycled endlessly. God keeps creating and sustaining life with the same water age after age and generation after generation. Water is the very essence of the cycle of creation."...