Lenten letters

To my fellow pilgrims in this season of Lent

Last Sunday was a wonderful celebration of Christian calling as I led a commissioning service for new elders in Tumbarumba in the morning and was then inducted as the minister of the Southern Region in Henty in the afternoon. There was a beautiful symmetry to the day which reminded me of how vital and necessary every single part of the Body really is.

Thank you to all who were present, and to the many others who have offered their support, prayers, encouragement, and friendship to my family and I in recent weeks. 

Thank you, especially, to all within the Church of Christ who have listened for and responded to the leading of the Spirit in their lives, who have made sacrifices and put their self-interests aside to serve others, who have acted as agents of healing and reconciliation and justice in our community, and who – in various big and little ways – hold the sacred mystery of God before us in our mission, our decision-making, and our worship. 

Leading where God calls is not always an easy task. It can be humbling, confusing, frustrating, uncomfortable, and even positively unrewarding at times! 

Sometimes, we might encounter what seem to be obstacles in our way or stumbling blocks to our vision, only to find that they were actually route markers along an unimagined journey – places where God came very close to us and we were able to come very close to God.

Sometimes, we may feel vulnerable or unsafe opening up to or standing in front of others – like “spiritual flashers” to borrow a term from a friend – and risking criticism for what we are doing and how we are doing it from people who seem unwilling to do anything but throw stones.

Sometimes, our passion and urgency might chafe against the processes and the structures of the church that seem slow and unwieldy but can actually offer us the space to follow our thoughts home, hone our gifts, deepen our conversations, and build authentic, supportive relationships that honour our mutual gifting and collective discernment.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it”

Luke 13:34a

As I read Christ’s words this week concerning Jerusalem, I am struck yet again by his humility and trust in the Father as he walks towards the city of Jerusalem knowing what awaited him there. It fills me with wonder that he is still full of love and longing to gather up the people like a mother who hen covers her chicks with her wings – even though they will soon mock, betray, deny and crucify him.

As we journey towards the cross, together, I hope that we will:

  • have the courage to explore and/or continue on the journey to which God has called us;
  • take a moment to affirm and encourage those who are exercising their gifts for the benefit of the Body;
  • and pray for the same love and longing of Christ to see his people welcomed, embraced, and protected in this place.

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne 

The blessing of bread

As I’ve been reflecting on the lectionary readings for this week – Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Luke 6:17-26 in particular – I am aware that so much of life seems to be about the ups and downs, or the “curses” and the “blessings” as both writers call them. I am struck by Jesus standing on a level place from which to offer words that calm the people’s troubles and a touch that heals them.

The table is that level place. Here the ordinary elements of bread and wine, in the way that they are spoken of and shared, become the extraordinary: a tangible reminder of the presence of God with and within us.

This week I want to keep that focus and so a little bit of Godly play language and a little of my Celtic roots have gone into celebrating this blessing in a simple way.

As I have children in the congregation, I will begin by sitting with them in a half circle in front of the covered communion table with a small basket of some heads of wheat, bread, grapes, and an indestructible picnic glass of grape juice.

***

Once there was someone who did such wonderful things and said such amazing things that people wondered who he was. Finally, they just couldn’t help it. They had to ask him who he was.

One time, when they asked him, Jesus said:

“I am the bread that came down from heaven to give life to the world. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.”

Many people didn’t understand. Some of them even got angry. But some of them decided to follow him wherever he went.

Another time, Jesus told those who were following him:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit.”

Point to the bread: Grain from the field, 

Point to the grapes/juice/wine: fruit from the vine .… 

As he sat at the supper table with them, he took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God for it, broke it, and gave it to them saying something like this:

“When you share the bread like this, I will be there.”

A piece of bread is given to one or more of the children.

And after supper, when they’d eaten everything they wanted to eat, he took the cup of wine, gave thanks to God for it, and shared it with them saying something like:

“When you share the cup like this, I will be there.”

A sip of juice is given to one or more of the children.

Stand and walk slowly to the altar. Remove the cover. Stretch your arms wide to show all that is set.

Grain from the field, 
fruit from the vine, 
ready at the table for us to share. 

The children (and any interested adults) are invited to come up to look and the wondering questions are offered – to encompass the whole congregation.

I wonder which part of this feast you love the best? 
I wonder if the wine and the bread make people happy?
I wonder if God comes close to us when we share like this?
I wonder who else God would like to come close to?

***

Addressing the congregation:

The table is ready. Christ himself is both the host and the meal. Eat the bread and be full of the life of Christ. Drink the cup and be filled with the love of Christ. Remember as you eat and as you drink that Christ is here and be blessed.

Communion is shared – first with those already gathered around the table. People should be encouraged to come up and stand together in groups around the table. Although this is a little less orderly than some congregations may be used to, there is a joy and togetherness at the table which can be a great blessing – especially to those who may feel isolated, unloved, or even unlovable.  

The elements are covered and the closing prayer is offered with arms outstretched to the whole congregation:

Christ is here.
Through the grain of the field
And the fruit of the vine
Shared among friends 
We remember:
God remains in us.

May we remain with God
To bear fruit in the world
In every season of our lives.

Amen.     

Sharing sacred space

A few years ago, I started one of my sermons with the words “prayer is simply coming before God as you are.” Then I kicked off my shoes … and savoured the feeling of new-found freedom:
~ in my preaching,
~ in my prayer life,
~ in my innermost being.

These days, most of my prayer time is spent in the sacred space of my study which is full of family photos, little love tokens that my children have crafted and collected for Mothers’ Days and birthdays, journals and art supplies, flowers from the garden and lights from precious people, and Bible stories which change with the seasons and ground me in my continuing journey into the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory.

This sacred space is truly a physical expression of my interior life – of all that I love and dream of and value – into which I can retreat for a little silence and solitude ….

Lately, however, there has been a constant stream of “intruders:”
~ from “Little cat” who plants his not-so-little bottom on my wheel of the year and stares out into the garden before coming to rub his nose against mine,
~ to big galumphing Mumford who “sneaks in” with his eyes averted and lies down peacefully at my feet, snoring contentedly,
~ to our rather hyperactive Rory who lies against me on the soft carpet, tongue out, feet up in the air, forepaws touching together as if imitating a posture of prayer,
~ to Big and Little who first peek in to see what I’m up to and, on being invited in, put their heads on my prayer cushion and talk with me in hushed voices about the deeper things that don’t often get discussed amidst the noise and nonsense of the dinner table and – if I’m very lucky – give me a decent cuddle before getting back to the “business” of the day ….

Yet, rather than interrupting my prayer life, this sacred time has become even more precious to me with the realisation that it’s not just mine. The light and the calm and the love in this little space has made others feel welcome. And when they enter in, they are different. And when they’re with me, they’re part of the prayer. And when we leave, we carry the love and the peace and the joy of the Lord with and within us.

O God-who-bids-us-welcome,
You meet us at the door,
show us to the circle,
sit beside us on the floor.

The candles dim around us
in the glory of your smile
as You weave for us a story

and we wonder for a while

at how tenderly You love us
and hold our hope, our pain, our care,
as we gather in Your presence
in the sacred space of prayer.  




Attentive

At every moment God seeks entry into your heart. He gives you the opportunity to be part of his kingdom. You are offered the opportunity to live in the kingdom of light, the very kingdom of God, or to go your own way and walk on still in the darkness.

Why do you not choose? Why not leave the darkness and walk in hope? Leave your loneliness and learn to walk with God.

David Adam ~ The Path of Light

I have been guilty this year of neglecting attentive prayer.

I have prayed. Oh, have I prayed. Yet, as I look back over the year I realise that it has all been productive prayer i.e. prayer for a my purpose.

Wisdom.
Patience.
Healing.
Forgiveness.
Rest.
Guidance.

Prayers for my needs.
Prayers for the church.
Prayers for the world.
Prayers during pastoral visits.
Prayers from the lectionary.
Prayers for the pray-ers.

I have prayed. Oh have I prayed. And God has been faithful.

God has been there for me. In a big way. But in my busyness, I have often only been half present with my wandering thoughts and divided attention.

There have been, it seems, so many things more pressing than attentive prayer – with the result that I have dislocated myself from the divine presence; placed myself in hell by attending to all the pressing things (even the really good and noble things) before attending to the presence of God that is my hope and my redemption.

So, this morning, as I lay quite still upon my bed, I affirmed that “the Lord is here” and gave myself up to the silence. At which point, my stomach rumbled. Loudly. And the neighbours’ dogs began barking. And Little Cat hopped up to purr a happy hello.

“The Lord is here,” I muttered again and again, as if it were a wish – no, a command! – rather than a reality.

My stomach gurgled. The dogs a little further up the street took up the call. The garbage truck passed by. And Little Cat curled up against my side, a warm and welcome lump of love …

… which is when I felt it. Like soft light through wind-stirred leaves, God embraced me. And my soul smiled.T

The Lord is here.
The Lord is.
The Lord….

Motho ke motho … alive in community

Words to live by …

… learned at a young age through the life-lifting devotions penned by Herbert Brokering and Scott. C. Noon in my belonging in various forms of youth ministry …

A tree can only live
in an environment.
A word can only live
in a context.
A baby will only live
in an embrace.
A thought will only live
if received.
A human can only live
in a family.
A noun can only live
with a predicate.
I can only live
in community.

… lived in the gift of multicultural worship and the learning of an unfamiliar tongue …

Motho ke motho ka batho ba bangwe –
loosely translated as “a person is a person because of other people.”

… longed for in the wide open spaces of a new(ish) land …

“We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”

Romans 5:2 (The Message)