Almost a hundred years ago, a notable book of English Modernist theological essays was published. One leading conservative voiced a classic critique. The book, he said, was a typical example of liberals thinking less about God and far too much about a secular audience. Liberals, he alleged, are constantly asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ – Jones being the name for the supposed average person in the street. The response from the editor of the book was swift. ‘I am not asking what Jones will swallow’, he retorted, ‘I am Jones themselves, asking what there is to eat.’ For there is a big difference, isn’t there? The idea of asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ is undoubtedly a conservative prejudgment of liberal intentions. Yet it can be one unfortunate dynamic in faith circles, sadly leading down the path of reductionism and beyond. Asking ‘what is there to eat?’ is a much more radical and open question, possibly leading even to revisiting aspects of diets left aside in the past. For a self-confessed ‘progressive’ church like Pitt Street Uniting Church, it is certainly a question which needs to be at the heart of our healthy spiritual pathways. After all, as the missionary theologian D.T. Niles once memorably said, sharing the Good News is essentially about ‘one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.’ So what does this food look like today? And what does our reading this morning from John’s Gospel have to say? For John chapter 6 is a lengthy excursus on the bread of life, and how it may be found, or not. What challenges, and opportunities, does this raise for us, as individuals, and as a community together, at this stage in our development?...
I have always loved the story of the woman at the well, which has so many layers of interpretation. We have diverted from the lectionary today, so that we can look at it in association with Corinne Ware’s work on the Spirituality Wheel – a tool that helps us better understand our preferred forms of spirituality, and how these can aid or hinder our encounter with the divine. We will come back to this slide in our faith education session later this morning. For now, just notice that we have four main ways of approaching our spiritual life, through our head, our heart, our soul and our community. We will each tend to favour one of these over the others. Some lend themselves to a theology of transcendence, some to one of immanence. Some lean towards outward expression, some more to internal. Each produces different kinds of liturgical approach and different preferences for personal prayer. All of them will be present in a good liturgy or a good story. Today’s story, like all good stories, offers entry points for all of us, as we play with it in different ways and allow different aspects to reveal themselves...
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...
Today is Trinity Sunday, when the church tries to describe the indescribable; to point to the character and action of the Divine that is always dynamic and evolving. The early teachers of the church came to describe God as Trinity – three equal ‘persons’ or expressions of God, Father, Son and Spirit – or in the beautiful and more inclusive language of Julian of Norwich, the Maker, the Lover and the Keeper. It is a picture of God as a community of equality. That in itself is of immense importance in a world where inequality and autocracy tend to rise up as we have seen this week in the United States. The picture of God as Trinity shows us how God’s very being and nature is about relationship and love. How might this picture of God as Trinity help us in these days of change and challenge across our world?...
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."...
I want to talk about wine, woman and wedding; and about what Jesus's first sign can teach us about our Mission Action Plan and our giftedness in this parish. First of all however, just notice how our gospel reading begins. It starts with the words "on the third day" - and that's very odd, because in the previous chapter we have had a day when the Pharisees question John the Baptist, then a day when John sees Jesus, then a day when he declares Jesus the lamb of God, and then a day when Jesus calls Philip and Nathaniel, so that by the count of the narrative we are now up to at least the fifth day not the third. Which should alert us that the counting that is happening here is not literal but symbolic. So if symbolic, what as Christians do we all know happens on the third day? ...that's right, Jesus is raised from the dead. So this tells us that the story that follows is a highly symbolic story, all about Jesus's resurrection and what it achieves. This is going to be a story about transformation, that is for the whole church. And if we are in any doubt about that we need only look to the last sentence of the story, ' Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him'. There are to be six more 'signs' in the gospel of John, each of them revealing more of the glory of Jesus, culminating in the raising of Lazarus, before John turns to the final story, the story of the death and resurrection. So this story, which appears at first glance to be about a good time at a wedding, is in fact all about Jesus and the transformative power of his death and resurrection...
by Penny Jones for Advent 2 year B
It gave me great joy yesterday to see everything so green after the rain. I am sure we are all taking delight in the clean fresh scent and the signs of new life. It would not be too fanciful I think to say that our bit of the world has been ‘baptised’ over the last few days.
The great medieval Christian mystic Hildegaard of Bingen coined a particular word for such ‘greening ‘ of the earth. She called it ‘veriditas’, from the Latin word for green. For her it best described the first shoots of green leaves poking through the white snow after a long winter in her native Europe. It was the sign of new life. And so too for us, as rain restores life to our parched land we see fresh potential for life in the renewed greenness of our land.
When we think about baptism and the ministry of John the Baptist which we recall today, veriditas, the ‘greening’, is a good picture to have in our minds. It is a picture that works at many levels. It describes the ‘greening’ of the outer world, the created order on which we rely for daily life. It describes the ‘greening’ of our inner world, the work of God in our individual souls. And it describes as well the transformative work of the Holy Spirit within our society and wider political systems...