|Pen and Ink Reflections||
Alex may, or may not, remember the first time we met. It was at the start of a new year in which, finally, I was resolved to affirm my gender identity publicly. Dressed as a female, that Sunday I consequently chose MCC at Petersham as the safest space in Sydney to go to Church – Pitt Street Uniting Church would also have been fine but I already knew too many people there and that would have caused premature attention elsewhere. The MCC worship was uplifting and the community immensely welcoming. Over coffee, I then remember a gorgeous young man speaking beautifully and articulately, passionately and gently, about faith, life, and the possibilities of joy and community for us all, whoever we are. He opened us up to the experiences he was having in his studies in the USA, and some of the wonderful new life of progressive churches there. That young man was Alex, and, little did we know it, but our lives were to intersect frequently in the following years. Not least, after I came out publicly, MCC Brisbane was my second spiritual home, alongside the terrific Milton Anglican community. As Pastor there, Alex helped accompany me through that stage of life, enriching Penny and I, as well as so many others, with his gifts and love. Hopefully, we too offered some mutual support. Indeed, just as Penny and I were honoured to share in Alex’s ordination at MCC, and to walk with him through that time, so the last thing we experienced in Brisbane was a blessing from MCC for our journey into new ministry at Pitt Street Uniting Church, conducted by Alex. It has therefore been such a joy to be reunited with Alex here in Sydney, sharing not only times of struggle – such as the queerphobic attacks upon Pitt Street and the wider LGBTIQA+ community earlier this year, but new steps, such as that for which we gather today. All this too, is part of the shared inspiration which Penny and I, like Alex, draw from the extraordinary text of the book of Ruth which we have just heard…
In his tender and tantalising work Anam Cara, John O’Donohue wrote that:
“the way you look at things is the most powerful force in shaping your life.”
I want to talk about three ways of looking at things suggested by our readings today – the microscopic that allows us to appreciate our own smallness and uniqueness; the telescopic that invites us to move imaginatively towards universes beyond this one; and the cosmic that calls us to a bigger story. For story is critical and it is only through story that we shall be able to effect the extraordinary changes required by our current ecological crisis...
‘By faith’ – what a powerful and ringing repeated phrase that is in the Letter to the Hebrews chapter 11. Last Sunday and this Sunday we have heard it read in two parts, telling some of the stories of those who have gone before us in the story of God as told in the Bible. This great passage relates the stories of so many heroes of faith in the Hebrew traditions. ‘By faith’ – the Letter affirms so strongly how all kinds of extraordinary events and achievements flow from the power of trust and courage that true faith enables. Note well: this is faith not as a set of beliefs or practices or organisational structures, as so many would have us see ‘faith’ today; but biblical faith, which is about inspiration, risk, and energy. As such, it encourages us to take heart, to draw on similar energy, and to take risks in our own day. What might we ourselves seek to achieve?...
How do we want our stories to end? Whether it is our own story, or that of our community, our nation, our world, much is up to us. Now, we may not have much room for manoeuvre. All kinds of forces help shape our lives, internal and unconscious, as well as external and recognised. Yet we still have power to shape our stories, even if only by our attitudes, and by how we receive and respond to what happens to us. This truth is at the very heart of the Gospel and the power of love, forgiveness, and justice seeking. For, however you view the Resurrection stories, a common feature is their open, unfinished nature. The tomb is not sealed. The body is not there or is transformed. The end is a new beginning. So how do we want the story to continue?...
Storms about sex and gender increasingly rage around, and, importantly, within us. In the face of this, what stories are we telling ourselves, and living into? How are we negotiating the tempests of faith, fact and false news? Where are we headed and what hope do we have? Let us take time to consider. For the sea of faith of which we are a part is in much turmoil because of sex and gender waves. It is likely to remain so, and even grow more turbulent. What options are among us then, and, most vitally of all, where is God in all of this?
This week I came across the account of a student of the Alexander technique. For those of you not familiar, this is a movement based therapy that helps an individual to see their inefficient habits of movement and patterns of accumulated tension, which interfere with their innate ability to move easily. This was their experience as they interacted with a client for the first time.
‘Suddenly I feel overwhelmed by implications. The way he’s co-ordinating to stand is part of his whole way of being in the world, and here’s me about to move in and maybe change that, or at least offer a different possibility. A sense of politeness paralyses me for a moment. I don’t want to interrupt. Later I talk with [the teacher]. She looks at me with steady compassion. ‘Actually, I see that as part of my job. To interrupt patterns.’ She’s right. Interrupting is part of my job.’
Interrupting is part of my job. I think Saint Matthew would have agreed and as we celebrate his saint’s day today, and consider the ways in which he presented the teachings of and about Jesus in the gospel that bears his name, I invite you to consider him as a great interrupter. I also invite you to consider that interrupting is also part of our job as ministers, teacher and spiritual directors. It is our task, with the guidance of the spirit, to help others interrupt their destructive habits of life and behaviour, whether at the individual or communal level, and find transformation....
This morning we bring together three important aspects of our lives together: the liturgical Season of Creation which we begin this week; the witness to justice and care for Creation which has been explored in our Abundant Justice conference this weekend; and the Gospel call, which we have just heard, to follow Jesus to take up the cross and follow him. So I want to speak this morning about three connecting things: about three ‘c’s; about the cross, about change and about communion; about how the cross comes when you try to change things; about how true change is grounded in the communion of all being; and about how that communion is founded on the cross of God’s creation…