Food 4 the Road 8: Travelling companions

To all my travelling companions on this special journey …

Today we light the second candle of our Advent wreath: the Bethlehem candle which represents faith and reminds us of the journey that Mary and Joseph undertook from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to meet Roman census requirements and, more importantly, in fulfilment of what the prophets had foretold.

In a Godly Play room, the Holy Family is a centre of focus for other stories as they hold deep significance for our faith. Their story is the story of the re-creation of the Universe for, from Mary’s womb, new life comes; not just a new life but the new life of God for the whole world.

Christ’s incarnation changes everything: it changes the way we understand ourselves, each other, the Creator, and the created world around us.

The Holy Family is the focus of attention in the Christmas story with the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem setting others on their own journeys too: the shepherds travel from nearby fields to see if the Good News that they receive from the angels is true, and the wise men travel from afar to bear their gifts to the newborn King.

As we light the second candle today, I wonder what journeys you will be undertaking during this time.
~ Will you be heading off to visit with friends and family? 
~ Will they be coming to visit you? 
~ What journeys do you remember from your past that hold special significance?
~ What trips might you be looking forward to? 
~ And what new life might the Christ-child open up for you?

Yours in Christ
Yvonne

Food 4 the Road: An Advent Journey

I am part hobbit.

If you don’t know what a hobbit is, I suggest that you get reading “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien and/or watching the film series onto your Christmas to-do list as soon as possible but, because I don’t want to hold this tiny error of omission against anyone, I will take a moment to explain with images the three ways in which I am quite hobbity:

I have hobbit-like feet. No, not hairy feet. Just – um – a little on the large side for a lady feet. Or so I have been told.
I have a hobbit-like appetite and think it’s appropriate to take a break for ALL these meals. Every day.
I’m on a journey – an expected one in the sense that the season of Advent points the way to Bethlehem at this time every year, but I always get there with unexpected insights and travelling companions.

Food 4 the road offers 24 days of wonderings to sustain us in our wanderings through brief daily reflections which you’ll find at liturgies4life.com each day or can get straight to your email if you click on the “subscribe button just below.

In addition, Wednesdays will feature some questions for conversation and communion if you would like to organise and enjoy a communal meal with other pilgrims, friends, and family members in this special time of getting ready and entering the mystery of God with us.

In the first week (beginning Sunday, 1 December), we travel with the prophets. So put on your walking shoes (if you don’t have incredibly large and hard hobbity feet), pack a bag with enough munchies and crunchies to keep you going for a while, and let’s journey together.

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” 

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Easter 5 letter

To my fellow pilgrims on the path of resurrection life 

Last Saturday, mom and I spent a lovely afternoon at Tambea Kitchen and Garden learning a little more about gardening in Australia – and, more specifically, in Wagga’s difficult climate. (I won’t go into detail about the caramelised pear and ginger cake that we also enjoyed over afternoon tea but it definitely deserves a mention).  One idea that the presenter kept coming back to, however, was the importance of thinking about your entrance – whether you live on a farm, in a cottage, in the suburbs, and even in a flat. Your entrance not only makes a first and lasting impression, but it also tells people something about who you are and lets them know where you want them to go and what door you would like them to enter in by. 

Alongside Janice’s joy-filled induction service and the celebration of Mother’s Day (which becomes a little more awkward each year for many preachers due to our deepening awareness of who might feel left out or even be hurt by their memories), the myriad pictures of bold and creative entrances that we were shown has had me thinking a lot about how we extend God’s welcome to our community: 

~ what do our entrances say about us?
~ how do people know where to go?
~ does our welcome encourage them to enter through the door of our church and the Door of Life?

As we continue to journey with the book of Acts and the stories of the church coming to life in this season of Eastertide, we encounter the apostle Peter freshly returned from Joppa where many had come to profess faith in the resurrected Christ. His greeting by the believers in Jerusalem is not quite what we might expect:

“The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’”  Acts 11:1-2

And so Peter explains: 

~ his vision of God making what he considered impure clean,
~ the timely invitation to Caesarea,
~ and how he witnessed the gift of God’s Spirit to the Gentiles.

THEN the disciples rejoice at how God is opening up the way, expanding the kingdom to include those that they had not judged worthy! 

As Revelation 21:1-6 reminds us today: God is moving into the neighbourhood. Heaven, in Christ, is coming to earth. And the Church exists as a sign of this Truth.

As God makes God’s dwelling place with all people, I wonder how we can offer a cheerful entrance and a warm welcome rather than the unspoken 

“This venue reserves the right
to refuse admission to any person”

which shows on so many faces when the unexpected and “unwanted” show up. 

This week, may we be particularly aware of the opportunities to extend God’s welcome to friend and neighbour and stranger.

Yours in Christ
Yvonne 

Table talk

As I sat down to write this letter, I was very aware of the fact that the chair beneath me was not at all comfortable to sit on, the walls were sparse (and powder blue!), and the bookshelf before me was bare. I was – once again – in an unfamiliar space: this time my “new” little office at the Team Ministry Centre. 

I took a deep breath and touched the familiar objects that I had brought from home in turn: a leather-bound Thompson Chain Reference Bible (like the one my mom gave me when I first started preaching at 18), a scented candle (a present from treasured friends), and a bowl of black and white pebbles (that I handed out throughout the Southern Region on Ash Wednesday).   

Outside, the cars rumbled past. Inside, cups clinked as Annie put the kettle on for a cuppa and John whistled away as he looked over the finances. I smiled as I remembered the faithfulness of God who journeys with us in the midst of the everyday and the ordinary, as well as the new and the unfamiliar.

For me, the major seasons of the Christian Year – Christmas and Easter – should enfold us in this liminal space where things are simultaneously new, yet familiar. Christ’s cross and his cradle must bring new meaning to how we engage with the dailyness of human routine and relationship. And the old, old story which we hear again in this season has to be listened to with fresh ears if we are to discover its significance in a world which is constantly questioning its/our relevance.

This year, I find myself particularly drawn to the table at which Jesus sat with his disciples for one last, long conversation before his betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane and painful death on Calvary. I keep thinking back to the laughter, the arguments, the teasing, and the sharing that took place over Sunday roasts in my childhood home. We never pretended to be a perfect family but the table was always a meaningful place of togetherness, whether we were at peace or warring with one another (my mom might have an entirely different perspective!). 

I wonder what went through Jesus’s mind as he knelt before each of his disciples and washed their dusty, calloused feet … 

… as he broke bread with his friends and predicted that one would betray him … 

… as he anticipated being disowned by the one on whom he would one day build his church … 

… as he comforted them, commanded love, and promised the coming of the Holy Spirit … 

… as he prayed and prayed and prayed – for them, for himself, for all yet to believe …

… as he went out into the night knowing what cruelty and despair awaited them all….

I wonder what it means for us to be disciples at and of that table:

  • what part does meal-sharing have in our worship, our decision-making, and our mission?
  • how can we be wounded, imperfect people and yet break bread together and love one another with the same love that Christ had for us?
  • who would be invited, excluded, or not even thought of?
  • what challenging conversations would we need to have to prepare us for what lies ahead?
  • what might Jesus pray for us? what would we ask for ourselves?
  • where do we go when the meal is over? what do we do next?

In the midst of our familiar celebrations of Easter and Pentecost, I encourage you to read again the “table story” of John 13:1 to 17:25 and to engage with some of these wonderings – around your dinner table or the communion table – that we may encounter and offer Christ to one another and the community around us in a new way.

Yours in Christ
Yvonne

Lenten letters

To my fellow pilgrims in this season of Lent

In the midst of the troubling news of the tragedy in Christchurch last week and heavy conversations with members of a farming community who are fast running out of water and feed as they wait and hope and pray for rain, it was particularly meaningful to celebrate the act of baptism and hear the familiar words: 

… for you Jesus Christ has come, has lived, has suffered;
for you, he has endured the agony of Gethsemane and the darkness of Calvary;
for you, he has uttered the cry, ‘It is accomplished!’
For you, he has triumphed over death;
for you, he prays at God’s right hand.
All for you, even before you were born.

Uniting in Worship

For me, Christ’s journey to the cross – much like God’s choice to come into our midst in the form of a tiny, vulnerable baby – is a poignant reminder that God shares in our daily life, our suffering, and our death, and that, one day, we will share in the power of Christ’s resurrection.

In Luke’s Gospel this journey (beginning shortly after his transfiguration) takes ten chapters to tell as Jesus follows the pilgrim’s route through Samaria; stops over with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany; and even eats in the home of a tax collector in Jericho. Though Jerusalem is his destination, he does not rush or brush people off or dismiss the daily needs of fellow pilgrims on the way as petty in the grand scheme of what he will soon accomplish.

He heals. He teaches. He encourages. He comforts. He visits.

He takes his time because the salvation of the world is not only about an eternal end goal but about us knowing the blessing of God being close to us in each and every day of life’s journey.

In Luke 13:1-9, as he tells a tale about a fruitless fig tree to those who are wondering about whether God is with them in light of the terrible time that they have had of late, I identify with the owner of the vineyard who just wants to cut it down and clear the space for something better. I recognise that I am hasty and full of judgement. I confess that I get frustrated with things that eat up my time or energy without actually accomplishing anything. I acknowledge that my sense of time always seems more urgent than the gardener who not only asks that the poor fig tree be given another year, but promises to nurture and feed it that it may bear fruit.   

The invitation of this week in Lent is threefold:

  • to slow down! Take some time out to walk, to wander, to visit with a friend, to be still, to be open to signs of God’s love with and within you.
  • to confess – our frustration, our impatience, our careless haste. 
  • to pray – for rain, for grace for the sinner and healing for the hurting, for the salvation of the world and for the part that God would have us play in it.

For us, Christ has endured much, accomplished much, and continues to pray much. May we, in turn, bear much fruit as we live in and with and through his great love for us.

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne 

With what do we measure?

A reflection based on readings from “Beyond the lectionary:”

With what do we measure?

An easier question to answer might be “with what don’t we measure?” for, from an early age, we begin to learn the language of comparison. Our parents applaud enthusiastically when we manage to place the triangle, the circle, the square into the “correct” opening; stack rings in order of greatest to smallest, or perfectly identify the colour of different items presented to us.

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Our teachers add to our limited recognition of numbers when we begin the formal schooling process, a vast array of “measurement” means from dollars and cents to metres and litres to ratio and proportions to angles and planes which we can compare and convert.

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As part of our critical thinking skills and verbal performance, we excel when we can correctly identify the “odd one out” or circle “the one that does not belong’. And we fast discover that those terms can be applied as criteria in our social relationships too.

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The older we get, the more proficient we become at measuring, sorting, classifying – and the more tools we are given to do so: race, gender, nationality, language, socioeconomic status, highest level of education, and so on.

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Anything, really, can be used to measure – from whether you’re a cat lover or a dog person, to how many drinks it takes for you to start behaving badly, to whether you wear weird socks underneath your relatively normal looking slacks. And it all means something! as we take our measurements and sort, classify, and compare in an effort to figure out where we fit in the world around us.

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No wonder it is such a struggle when we enter into the Christian life to learn a new language, a new way of looking at others, that is not based on measuring whether people are worthy or welcome but on offering “how best can I be a brother, a sister, a servant to you?”

Each of our texts today offer us a new word, a new way of measuring, based not on classifying and comparing but on transforming outsiders to insiders, strangers to family, darkness to light.

***

In our Old Testament reading, King Solomon – the son of David and writer of many of the wisdom sayings in Scripture – is placed in the difficult position of rendering judgment in a case where there are no witnesses; only the words of one distraught mother against another’s as each longs for a living baby over the dead one.

The means by which he reaches a decision seems quite cruel, and even illogical,  at first: he orders a servant to get a sword and cut the live baby in half so each woman can get a piece. But the real mother reveals herself by her response. While the woman with no true bond is happy with his solution, the child’s mother would rather give him up entirely than see him harmed in any way.

Love is the measure. Love is what Solomon was looking for as he applied his God-given wisdom to make the right decision. And not just any kind of love, but the sacrificial sort that would see a mother giving up a lifetime with her child just to know that he still breathed; that, indeed, Christ Jesus would embody as he laid down his life for his friends, for his persecutors, for the whole, wide world, for you and for me.

Is it the same with us? Do we display to strangers, to newcomers, to those with whom we would not previously have imagined associating a love which welcomes, which protects, which serves – often at great cost?

***

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, a difficult and divisive congregation, we discover that one of their ongoing arguments resulted from the very human desire to possess what was seen as the greatest of all spiritual gifts – the supernatural capacity to speak in angel tongues, in different languages – and so gain authority and status within the life of the community.

This is an example of measurement at it’s worst where a person’s worth or value to the church was rated according to the gifts that they could offer, but Paul puts an end to it when he says, “if you want to have a spiritual gift, then seek most of all those gifts that will build up the body; that will help the church grow stronger.”

Growth is the measure that Paul offers as an antidote to the poisons of power, of pride, of envy that were so rampant in this congregation.  He warns that the desire for and discernment of our individual gifting and talents should not be for our own advancement or exaltation or – for that matter – hoarding, but for the growth, the strengthening, the knitting together of the body and the drawing nearer of God’s kingdom. Otherwise we are as useless as untuned instruments for leading worship or muted trumpets for signalling an approaching battle.

Is it the same with us? Or do we use our God-given gifts to build another up; to grow together in faith, in love, in understanding?

***

Finally, in John’s Gospel, Jesus tackles the crowd at the Feast of Booths about their hypocrisy; their double standards.  It must have been a difficult time – dealing with his brothers’ disbelief in his divine identity and authority, with the crowd who has questioning whether he was for real or simply leading the people astray, and with the increased, hidden hatred of the priests and Pharisees who wanted to get rid of this healer, this teacher who was upsetting the status quo.

One of their accusations against him was that he had healed the man at the pool of Bethesda on a Sabbath day, commanding him to pick up his mat and walk. Jesus points out the hypocrisy of holding him to the law of the Sabbath (that no work should be done) while happily circumcising a baby boy on a Sabbath day themselves.

While the religious leaders sought to keep up appearances of piety and obedience, Jesus acted according to what was right. Justice was his measure: ensuring that the vulnerable, the diseased, the accused, the outcast, the prisoner knew the power and the presence of God in their lives. Judged unworthy and unimportant by those who measured by the way things look, they are the very ones to whom the Messiah came.

Is it the same with us? Do we value justice for those who are hurting, for those who are searching, for those that society seldom even looks at more than the comfort of our religious rituals and routines?

***

Love. Growth. Justice.

Three simple words. Three powerful ways of measuring – not how others fit in to our community of faith – but how wholly and how vividly we are portraying the face, the heart, the mystery of God as we go about our daily lives.

As those who heard King Solomon’s decisions respected his wisdom and gave glory to God, may those who encounter through our words, our actions, and our priorities a different way of measuring based on offering rather than judging do likewise.