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
So Penny, which is it to be – traditions of gold, or possibilities untold? Which of the two parts of the theme of our 50th Carnival of Flowers Festival would you stress the most? I’m guessing the second part – possibilities untold? Whereas, I reckon you might guess that I’d go for the first part – traditions of gold? Or is the real answer something else altogether: something which transcends and completes them both – traditions of gold and possibilities untold? What do you say?
Most of us probably know the old saying about some of the great Australian metropolitan cities: in Sydney, it is said, they ask ‘how much money do you have?’; in Melbourne, they ask ‘which school did you go to?’; in Adelaide, they ask ‘which church do you attend?’; and in Perth, they ask ‘so what did you come here to get away from?’ There is some truth in that even today. What then, I wonder, would be the question we would ask in Toowoomba? My hope is we would ask ‘what gifts do you have to enrich our world?’ This question is certainly at the heart of Jesus’ good news and behind today's Gospel passage about the nature of divine table fellowship. It is assuredly a great question for us on our parish thanksgiving weekend…
First of all, may we say thankyou for this opportunity of sharing with you. It is actually unusual for us to preach together – and rest assured this does not mean a sermon of twice the usual length! – but we felt it was appropriate to do so in the light of our reading from Galatians today, which includes that amazing declaration of Saint Paul that, among other human differences, ‘there is neither male nor female in Christ Jesus.’ A good deal of our ministry, individually and together, has been seeking to share this central reality of our Faith, that ‘in Christ’ all things are made whole and flourish to their full potential. In a world so sadly divided by competition, by racism, sexism and ‘isms’ of all kinds, this is such vital ‘good news’ we have to share as Christians, beginning with the journey of wholeness we can find ourselves in Christ. In a few minutes, we want to share just three ways in which this is taking place in Toowoomba. Before we share something of Toowoomba however, let us look at our Gospel story today. For you have certainly found your visiting preachers a rip-roaring tale haven’t you?!
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Jo Inkpin,