The stories of the great biblical prophets are certainly extraordinary, not least those of Elijah and Elisha. As Penny said last week, in some ways such biblical narratives are really top cartoon action stuff. That is certainly true of our story from the Hebrew Scriptures today. This contains powerful features which have had enduring value in faith communities, and elements which have been overlooked. There has also always been a good deal of tidying up, and ignoring, of some aspects of the narratives. For one thing we can assuredly say about the prophets is that they are not comfortable figures. We see this too in the story of Jesus which we will come to later. After all, as we have just sung, in John Bell’s words, Jesus is a ‘provocative preacher’, an ‘itinerant teacher‘, and an ‘outsider’s friend’. Be clear about that if you want to follow Jesus – all things may be up for grabs and turned upside down. To put it another way, your life and world may be profoundly queered...
One of my favourite stories of transgender resistance to oppression comes from India. A group of hijra people were being harassed and humiliated. Of course, this was/is nothing new. Whilst hijra have their gender officially recognised on the Indian subcontinent, they are outcasts among outcasts, typically living on the margins, in the very poorest quarters, and they stir a range of reactions in others. Like all marginalised people, behind their own remarkable brave lives lies terrible and very real fear, and many sad stories: of the sex trade and exploitation, of cruel and/or dangerous castrations, of being cast out and shamed. In one community this shaming grew intolerable. Exclusion, humiliation and actual physical and sexual violence grew exponentially. What could the hijra do? The law, politicians, even religious leaders, did not care. They were actually deeply complicit. Then, after one particularly awful day, the hijra hatched a plan. In the early hours of the morning, after stripping off their undergarments, they would walk, en masse, to the houses of the worst abusers, rattling pots and pans, bells and whistles, and anything they could put their hands on, seeking to wake up the whole neighbourhood, and make the maximum impact. This they did, raising a mighty commotion. Then, they waited whilst the worst offenders, particularly the leading fathers of the community, opened their doors and windows, and came out to see what the terrible din was all about. Standing in line, shoulder to shoulder, the hijra together then took hold of the hems of their dresses, and, with an extraordinary shriek and song of pride, lifted them up, and displayed their genitalia, in all their glory. All those who watched on were taken aback, not only with shock, but with shame. For the hijra had turned the tables on them. The shame now rested on those who were rightly shameful. The powerless had, if only temporarily, transformed the powers that oppressed them, into tools of life and liberation...
Good morning! It is a delight to be back here in Pitt Street after several weeks away on personal ‘sorry business’ and study leave. In the context of the continuing pandemic, it has certainly been what some might call an ‘interesting’ time, marking an important watershed in my own life and that of my wider birth family. In offering some reflections today, I would therefore like to begin by expressing my deep gratitude for the many, many. wonderful expressions of support from members of our Pitt Street community, and for the prayers which have been offered. I continue to be so grateful for the gift of loving relationships I am given as part of our life together, and I look forward to their further and deeper unfolding in the days to come. For relationship is such a core element of our lives, and never more important than at times of loss, grief, challenge and growth. As such, it is so absolutely foundational to the Day of Mourning we mark today, as well as to the trials of the pandemic world with which we continue to journey, and the struggles of our own particular lives. In the light of these things, my own recent and continuing journey, and of our readings today, I offer up relationship as one of three words which might be central to our considerations at this time.
How do we respond to death? I don’t ask that as a negative question but because it is at the heart of our Gospel – our Good News – today, and throughout this Holy Week. It is an unavoidable question, however much we try to avoid it: for, as the old proverb has it, two things are certain in life: death and taxes. Yet, more meaningfully, Christians believe, how we respond to death is at the heart of how we find life in this world, which is the ultimate meaning of our Gospel and the culmination of this Holy Week in the Resurrection. So, as we hear today’s Gospel reading (the story of Christ’s Passion according to Luke) - in three parts - let us reflect upon the challenge of death, so that we may find life again more fully, as Jesus offers it to us…
"Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands…and put my hand in his side; I refuse to believe.” Thomas was after certainty wasn’t he?
Often we speak of ‘doubting’ Thomas. Yet the Thomas we encounter here is not so much doubting as demanding proof. There is an aggressiveness in his demand for sure proof that is disturbing, and is matched by the fervour of his response once proof is provided. ‘My Lord and my God’ he proclaims: the loftiest acclamation of Christ anywhere in the New Testament.
In terms of personality it would be more accurate to characterise Thomas as a fundamentalist than a doubter. For him things are very clear with no grey areas. Such clarity produces great zeal and a capacity for courageous and devoted service. It is also potentially very dangerous.
Today across our world we see an increase in fundamentalism. This is true alike of all the mainstream religions and also of liberal securalism. It is a human phenomenon of our times, arising at least in part in response to the uncertainties of the post modern era, with the rapid pace of change brought about by the technological revolution. Fearful of the attack on familiar elements of culture and the perceived rubbishing of important values many people are attracted by the simplicity and apparent clarity of a fundamentalist approach. We can recognise it in ourselves; and we can see it just as clearly in those who would outlaw all religion as having evil consequences as in those who see themselves engaged in ‘Holy War’...
Just before Christmas we had a wonderful gathering in St Luke’s, of many faiths and none. It was a time of remembrance and prayer for those who had been killed and traumatised by recent events, including the Sydney siege and the massacre of children in Pakistan. It was a time of reaffirmation and deepened solidarity as we renewed our city commitment to peace and harmony. It was a time which showed we have something very special here in Toowoomba. For so many places in the world would be amazed that Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Baha’is, and so many others, can not only live together peacefully but even appreciate one another and share their distinctive gifts. That should not seem unusual. Yet it is. We should therefore celebrate and build upon it. For, in a deep sense, as we hear today’s Epiphany Gospel, we are perhaps thereby 'a Church of the Magi’…
Jon Inkpin for Holy Innocents, Sunday 28 December 2014
Today’s feast of Holy Innocents is an alternative in our church’s lectionary. For we could use other readings today. Perhaps some of us would feel more comfortable with them. After all, today’s Gospel is a tale of terror. It speaks about Jesus as a refugee. It tells of immense political violence. It recounts the massacre of children. What kind of a ‘good news’ and Christmas is this?...
Well, actually, it is very much a ‘good news’ story: both for our own day and for eternity.
Let me briefly share three things which are important about today’s Gospel reading: three things which make the otherwise terrifying feast of Holy Innocents a vital element of Christmas good news….
by Jon Inkpin, for Pentecost 18 Year A, Sunday 12 October 2014
This Friday, Bishop Cameron Venables spoke at our city Peace Forum on the subject of ‘Building Bridges – Sharing Humanity - Everyone Matters’. As a visual illustration he brought a teapot. Why a teapot? Well, what do we do we with a teapot? We make a cup of tea, don't we? Making a cup of tea, sharing hospitality, even with those very different from us – isn’t this a very simple but powerful way to build bridges, share our common humanity, and ensure that everyone matters? That is certainly my experience, not least recently. The Islamic Society literally offered a cup of tea in friendship recently to myself and other community leaders. A week yesterday, on St Francis’ day, Dawn and Phil helped reciprocate,, by offering afternoon tea to our Muslim friends, as we recalled Francis’ prophetic meeting of peace with the Sultan in the midst of the Crusades. This week, it was a wonderful delight for some of us to share a table together with our Palestinian Christian visitor, with Jews, Muslims and many others, in a Buddhist monastery of all places. This is part of what it is to be a city of peace and harmony in our troubled contemporary world. So who will each of us share a cup of tea with this week? Who will be at our table? For sharing the infinite hospitality of God: this is the heart of the good news of Jesus, even if today’s Gospel story seems (Matthew 22.1-15) to sit a little oddly with it….