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?
A few weeks ago I invited us all to address the question of Jesus: ‘who do you say that I am?’ This is central to the Christian spiritual pathway. As I affirmed, the answers to that question will differ, as they have differed, subtly or significantly, down the centuries. Today, on St Luke’s Day, Penny and I want to ask three more questions, which also feed into our community visioning day. They seek to open up three important areas of life: firstly, healing; secondly, hospitality; and thirdly, how do we hand on hope, as we experience it in our spiritual lives. Penny and I will do this together as a conversation. For, after all, isn’t one of the most beautiful stories in Luke’s Gospel that of the conversation between the disciples on the road to Emmaus, as they rediscover the living Christ in new ways?
Before all that however, I want to ask Penny about our relationship to St Luke. For we’ve had a bit of history with St Luke, haven’t we?...
Human beings can’t walk on water. This is fairly easily observable. However I was once told by no less a person than a church warden, that if I could build a labyrinth for meditative walking in the religiously conservative city of Toowoomba then I could walk on water. She was trying to tell me it was impossible. But the Toowoomba City Labyrinth was built and continues as a great tool for prayer. And – I can’t walk on water! Nor, I venture to suggest could Jesus.
If Jesus did walk on water, then we rid ourselves of one problem – the questioning of the historical accuracy of the Biblical account. But we create another - a Christ who only pretended to be human. Because humans can’t walk on water. We can of course protest that Jesus is the Son of God and can do anything, but the moment we do that we open up a whole other set of problems around why Jesus does not do a whole heap of other things that might be felt more useful, like ending wars or saving children’s lives. If we do not want to turn the human Jesus into a capricious divine figure masquerading as a human being, we might have to accept that he did not in fact walk on water.
So, what about this story then? How are we to read it? Well some scholars resolve the problem quite neatly by declaring it to be a misplaced resurrection story. This makes a lot of sense. This is why the disciples for examples are afraid and think they are seeing a ghost. However, I do not think that is the whole answer...
Some of us may have heard that, on the same night as this year’s Sydney Mardi Gras, a gay man was beaten up in the centre of Toowoomba. This should not take the gloss off the rightfully joyful celebrations of 40 years of Mardi Gras, or the recent advance with marriage equality and all that that symbolises. Yet it is a vivid reminder, if we needed it, that there is still more to do. I say that with deep sadness, for after ministering for over six years in Toowoomba, I have seen that city become increasingly broad and beautiful, in its affirmation, not just tolerance, of our amazing Australian human diversity. So I am not despondent about Toowoomba, or anywhere else in Australia, even though we have just been recalled to the powerful forces of rage in our society…
One of the strangest requests I received when I was General Secretary of the NSW Ecumenical Council was from the NSW Greens. They were trying to remove the saying of the Lord's Prayer from the opening of NSW Parliament and wanted support on the grounds that the 'Protestant' form used, with the doxology at the end, was excluding of Catholics, as well as of other faith groups. I did not have to contact the then Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Pell, or Jewish, Muslim, or other leaders to know how ridiculous they would have found the argument. For what mattered to all of them was not so much the exact words as the setting of public life in the context of the sacred and transcendent. I was reminded of this at this time of year in more recent times in being involved in planning the annual civic Remembrance Service at St Luke's Toowoomba. Some of the older and more conservative figures would insist on the inclusion of what they called the 'traditional' English-speaking version of the Lord's Prayer whilst others would support the 'modern' form which has been used for many years in Australian churches. Do the words really matter however or is the real substance of the prayer the key?...
I’ve been in two minds the last couple of days about which of the two sets of Australian Anglican lectionary readings for today to use. In the end I‘ve gone for marking the feast of the Holy Cross, for which incidentally there is no alternative in the Church of England’s lectionary for today. Does this perhaps perhaps a stronger Reformed emphasis in the Australian Anglican Church? If so, I have some sympathy. For there is a danger that the cross can become objectified, even venerated as an artefact, rather than being at the existential, metaphysical heart of Christian faith. The feast of the Holy Cross, in my view, is certainly one of those adiaphora, or non-essential, elements which are neither commanded nor proscribed by a healthy reading of holy Scripture. Yet, to that extent, it any yet assist us more deeply into the paschal mystery at the centre of our Faith. After my own theological wrestling with this, let me therefore briefly offer three, good Anglican, reasons for marking the feast today…
Let me begin with a famous story from the life of St Francis of Assisi.
A long time ago, the town of Gubbio in Italy had a major problem. A wolf had been eating their livestock and attacking, and even killing, those who had been sent to kill him. Understandably therefore the people of Gubbio grew very afraid, and even frozen in their fear, quarreling together about what was to be done and inflicting their anger and anxiety on one another. What could be done? In the end, they realised, perhaps only God could save them, so they asked the holiest person they knew, St Francis of Assisi, to help.
St Francis did not take the task lightly. He knew that the wolf was indeed capable of great violence. Yet, as someone who was particularly close to the ways of animals, he sensed that there might be another way. So he took courage and walked out into the woods where the wolf scarily lay. Then, in the depths of the forest, making the sign of the cross as the wolf came upon him, he spoke softly ‘Brother Wolf, I will not hurt you. Let us talk in peace.’ The wolf was caught in uncertainty. This man did not approach him with weapons and violence. He had no anger or fear. Instead, Francis’ powerful spirit of peace and compassion unnerved him, touching his own pain and fear. So the wolf sat down on his haunches and listened. Francis told the wolf what the people of Gubbio were experiencing, all about their pain and fear and anger, and he asked the wolf ‘why are you attacking the livestock and the people? Why did you kill?’
The story goes on that the wolf then told Francis his story: how he had been left behind by his own pack when he was injured: how he preferred deer and rabbits but he could not run fast enough to catch them, so had had to settle for the people’ sheep and goats; how he only attacked when he was really desperate and hungry; and how he had only killed people when they had seemed to threaten him. Hours passed as Francis and the wolf pondered together. Then Francis, understanding that the wolf had genuine remorse for what he had done, asked the wolf to accompany him to Gubbio, to ask forgiveness, that all might be reconciled. Slowly the wolf put his paw in Francis’ hand and they walked into the town.
In Gubbio, the people were amazed and powerfully moved by the wolf’s repentance. For those who had lost loved ones or livelihoods, it was particularly challenging. Could they too let go of their own pain and fear and violence, share in God’s forgiveness and begin again together in peace? Time passed with much reflection. However, in the spirit of Christ, anguish turned to healing and even expectation. The wolf was turned from enemy into friend, and the town’s greatest help and protector. How then might we too respond, in our fear and struggles, to those who seem to threaten us in our own day?...
We don't often think of Jesus as having a home do we? We usually emphasise that he was a wandering preacher, who had 'nowhere to lay his head'. Yet for the first thirty or so years of his life he probably lived quietly in Nazareth, probably in one house. And here we are told that he actively chose some obscurity following the execution of John the Baptist, and made his home at Capernaum.
I don't know about you but I find it comforting that Jesus knew what it is to move house, to leave behind the comfortable and familiar, and to begin again in a new place, just as Jo and I have done this week, and just as some of you are doing in moving to a new spiritual home here at St. Francis College. It is not easy to do this, but it is absolutely necessary to the advancement of the kingdom of God. The Spirit calls us onward, and we never know where we may end up. Had you told me thirty odd years ago as I began my ministry in London that one day I would be part of a theological college and parish community in Brisbane I think I would have been astonished!...
Making a transition is rarely easy, is it? Currently I’m conscious of many changes in which I am involved, some of which will take much time, wisdom and energy to unfold. We are, of course, in the very midst of such a change this morning, as Penny and I lay down our callings here, and as all of us open ourselves to the new things that God will do with us in the future. As such, this is a special, and precious, moment, as all holy transitions are. For the test, and the fruit, of God’s love is often found where we experience change. After all, as we see again, strikingly, in our Gospel reading today, our God is a God of a new creation, always calling us forth into new life and growth. Like John the Baptist, some of us are called to let go and pass on the baton. Like the disciples we are all called to ‘come and see’ where Jesus is calling us. Like Simon, we may be called to new names and purposes. Don’t you agree Penny?...
We give thanks to God for all that we have shared in Toowoomba since arriving in 2010 and express our deep gratitude for the prayer, friendship and love of this parish. We feel richly blessed to have been part of the unfolding ministry and mission of Christ in this city and region. For Toowoomba is a very special place. Like anywhere, it is not perfect and has its own challenges and struggles. Yet its blending of heritage and innovation makes the Garden City a fertile space for so many people to flourish. It is therefore a great personal challenge to leave, not least because we have enjoyed so many loving relationships with others, both within and beyond the immediate boundaries of our church communities – far too many and invidious to mention by name! We can also see so much potential for healthy growth of many kinds in both church and the wider community. Fortunately we will not be too far away and very much part of the wider diocese’s support for Toowoomba and the Western Region. (Do please also pop into see us in Milton too if you are passing – and join in our diocesan faith education as and when you can!) We also believe that God has new things in store for this parish, building on the vision and mission action plans we have discerned and nurtured together as clergy and laity in recent years. There are seasons for different gifts and people and God calls us always into new ways and spaces. We hope and trust therefore that seeds we have sown can ripen, prayer and hospitality continue to grow, and Christ’s love be shared more fully and deeply with all God’s children (of whatever culture, gender or sexual orientation, capability, faith (or none). May God bless us all in our lives and endeavours in this continuing journey!
from Jo and Penny