Jesus wept. In English, that phrase is the shortest verse in the Bible, although - as ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς - it is not the shortest in the original languages. Nonetheless, what expressive power it has. It is certainly appropriate to recent events. What with the AUKUS deal, with its expensive, and nuclear, submarines; Nazis on the streets of Melbourne; continuing anti-trans violence; right wing Christian attacks on our own community and others; and the latest IPCC report, as if earlier ones were not enough; Jesus wept indeed. This passage has also been on my heart for some time. Not least it came to mind when I saw a recent transport ad. ‘End Extreme Poverty’ it said and it brought me up with a shock. For wasn’t that the cry of other past campaigns in which some of us have shared, such as the Jubilee campaigns to end the debt of poorer countries, and the Make Poverty History campaigns of the ‘noughties’ (2000s) with their vaunted Millennium Goals? At that time, some of us may remember, there was an ecumenical campaign, led by a former colleague of mine, called the Micah Challenge. Meanwhile, working with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission, I recall being involved in our own Make Indigenous Poverty History campaign, with our own Millennium Goals, several of which have been part of the Closing the Gap initiatives since. As part of that, with an Aboriginal Christian leader, I co-wrote a little reflection on the Gospel story we heard this morning. Yet are we that further forward on many First Nations issues too? Well may we say Jesus wept. Where though is the pathway to life?
all desires known
If I were choosing the books which have most shaped and inspired my life, then very high on that list would be Janet Morley’s All Desires Known. Originally published in England in 1988 by the Movement for the Ordination of Women, and Women in Theology, it remains not only as an evocative expression of the Christian feminism which shaped so much of my early adult and ministerial life, which I also shared in with my wife Penny, and which, in many ways (together with other aspects of faith, and football) saved my life. Like Janet Morley’s earlier book Celebrating Women, co-edited with Hannah Ward, it also represents a landmark in the development of new life-giving language and imagery for God. For All Desires Known is a book of prayers for public and private worship, and it was formed out of the experience of an intentional community, the St Hilda Community, which specifically sought ‘to receive the broader vision of our Christian heritage and women’s spiritual offerings in language which excludes no person and no image of God’: a ‘non-sexist’ community, giving ‘full space and authority to women, without apology, secrecy, or shame.’ It is good to recall this today, in the wake of International Women’s Day this week, and as we hear the subversive, and in some ways shocking, Gospel story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. For exploring life-giving language and imagery for God and prayer remains an invitation to us all. Like the woman at the well, we too seek living water, and the source which can quench our thirst: our profound, existential desire for life in all its fullness.
Today’s Gospel reading is a very rich passage, full of extraordinary metaphors, story and meaning. It includes, for example, that powerful central affirmation of Christian Faith that God so loved the world that they sent their Beloved One that all who believe may have eternal life. Note well the heart of this good news: that God loves the world so much that all who believe – not just the doctrinally righteous, or the ethically conservative, but all may have eternal life. For the God we celebrate today is the God of unlimited, inexhaustible, love. As our Gospel text says, Christ comes among us not for condemnation, but for love and salvation. Let us therefore affirm again that you, we, all of us, are loved. The Gospel, our Good News, invites us to claim this, and live it. All of which brings us, in this passage, to the person of Nicodemus, and to light, and darkness…
There was once a monk who, whenever he passed a mirror, would look into it, wink, and say: ‘so, you old rogue, who are you today, and what are you up to?’ It is a lovely example of what, at its best, today’s queer theology asks. It is at the heart of what Mark Jordan was saying in our contemporary reading today (‘In Search of Queer Theology Lost’). In a striking manner, it also helps lead us into this week’s great Gospel story of the Transfiguration and its meaning(s) for us. For the monk, queer theology, and our Gospel, each challenge us to deeper, more refreshing, ways of living and understanding life and faith. Each disturbs settled identities. Each offers us fresh insight into God: into divine Love and Be-ing, which can never be confined to any one identity, time or place. As one of my favourite memes has it, ‘God is always transitioning’ – or at least, our understanding of God. As, and when, we grasp that, we also share in transfiguring Love…
My wife Penny and I met at theological college. It was certainly not love at first sight. I was quite introverted, not trying to give away much of who I was, and Penny – well, Penny was very nervous and came across as a terrible caricature of an English middle-class blue stocking type of woman: think, those of you who can remember back that far, of Joyce Grenfell in the old St Trinian’s films. Our college was overwhelmingly full of men, with this being only the second year a handful of women had been admitted. So, when I met Penny in the first hour or so after arriving, I thought: ‘well, if this is how the women are here, I am simply not going to survive!’ I guess that was one factor in our initial relationship: sheer survival in an age and culture still trying to come to terms with the equality of women as a whole, never mind wider gender diversity. It was an earlier reminder that, if Penny and I were to minister, it would be as salt. We would be adding fresh flavour to both the Church and the wider world, seeking to provide healing or simply preservation for some of us, and, from time to time, perhaps irritating others into whose wounds we might be placed to aid healing. Maybe some will have views on how well, or otherwise, we have done that so far. Our hope and prayer is, in the words of Jesus in our Gospel reading today, that we, with others, will never lose out saltiness…
let go, let grow, let glitter
A conversational Reflection by Penny Jones, with Josephine Inkpin, on the invitation and challenges of the Beatitudes of Jesus in our contemporary context...
What’s in a name? - often, a huge amount. First Nations peoples are very clear about that and the intimate relationship between naming, language more widely, culture, identity and flourishing. Other oppressed peoples know this too. Hence the suppression or promotion of different languages is so vital an issue: just look, for example, at Wales, Catalonia, Belgium or Canada. It is not simply good manners to use the language people ask of us. It is because, unless we do so, we are disconnected from layers of meaning and identity, place and community, history and, indeed, geology. Take my surname: Inkpin. This has nothing to do with writing or being a scribe, or seamstress. It comes from two ancient British words: inga and pen. Inga, in modern English, means people. Pen means hill. This tells me, and others, that I come from the people of the hill, with all the deep layers of connection this entails: to particular soil and environment; to history and culture; to others, past, present and future. Indeed, even today, there are English villages, not surprisingly on hills, with the name Inkpen. For whilst much was swept away by the two great imperial invasions of my native land, there are still fragments of British indigeneity left, and one is my surname. It is a living reminder that there are other ways of being English, and British, than what is usually asserted: there are always were, and there always will be. For when we look more deeply, the living fragments of traditional cultures in every land call us both to recognition of pain and loss, and also to fresh pathways of justice. This is part of today’s Day of Mourning. We will not find peace unless we recognise what has happened in this land - and particularly in this city; unless we repent – and much more radically than we whitefellas have so far done; and unless, in Midnight Oil’s words earlier, we ‘come on down’ to the makararrata place, ‘the campfire of humankind’, ‘the stomping ground.’…
invited to praise and joy
Our Gospel readings this week and next relate to what has traditionally been termed ‘the call’ of Jesus. Like the often very institutional church calls to ‘mission’, about which I spoke a fortnight ago, this call can often be interpreted quite narrowly, even oppressively. Indeed, it has sometimes been treated as a demand. Yet, in reality, as we see in both this week and next week’s Gospel’s reading, the call of Jesus is not so much a demand as an invitation. It seeks, as I said a fortnight ago, to draw us not drive us: to draw us into divine love and new life, not drive us into anything else, however admirable. For note well Jesus’ specific words in today’s reading from John’s Gospel: ‘come and see’. Like the words ‘follow me’ in Matthew’s Gospel next week, whilst Jesus invites, there is no compulsion. Nor is particular direction or content provided, although the Gospel record provides us early Christian understandings. Rather the invitation is primarily to an adventure of faith and experience. There is no requirement of belief as such, though that might emerge to give expression to the experience of the journey. There is no clear timetable, shape or schedule, or obvious destination. Jesus simply calls on those who will to set out on a shared pathway, walking together in trust. Is that how we see faith today?...
How do you, how do we, approach new things? On this New Year’s Day, how are we feeling about what is happening and may happen? My sense is that some of us are hopeful and excited, but others less sure and anxious. Some of us see fresh possibilities, and others renewed burdens. What does tomorrow’s world look like, and feel like, to you?
I want to begin by inviting you to look up - Look – here! at this trinity of angels, symbolising Courage, Compassion and Joy. Jyllie Jackson, the artist who with her team created them, saw these as qualities particularly embodied – incarnated indeed – here in our community at Pitt St Uniting Church. Those of us who worship here regularly – can we see ourselves I wonder? It is hard sometimes to see ourselves as others see us! And those of you visiting here today – I wonder what aspects of yourselves you see here in our angels? For they are icons of incarnation...
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney