There’s a Light upon the mountains

Each Christmas our lectionary readings take us into familiar territory with its inherent danger of boredom and stagnation. Yet as I skimmed the oft-thumbed pages, two songs of my childhood emerged and merged within my imagination bringing a forth a new song of praise and wonder reflected in the liturgy for the day which should flow rhythmically between the speaking and singing:

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him
Who brings good news, good news;
Announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness:
Our God reigns, our God reigns!

There’s a light upon the mountains,
and the day is at the spring,
When our eyes shall see the beauty
and the glory of the King;
Weary was our heart with waiting, and
the night-watch seemed so long,
But His triumph-day is breaking, and
we hail it with a song.

Our familiar readings are:

  • Isaiah 52:7-10 – the watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem shout in wonder the Good News of God’s return and eternal reign;
  • Psalm 98 – the new song of God’s salvation resounds through human hands and voices, as well as ocean roar and mountain rumble;
  • Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12) – the Son is introduced as the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being; as He who laid the earth’s foundations and will steadfastly endure;
  • John 1:1-14 – the true Light comes into the world – sometimes unwelcome, sometimes unwanted, sometimes unacknowledged – but unlimited and inextinguishable.

***

Through darkest night, with dimming sight,
and hearts in need of rest,
we have watched and we have waited
for Your day to dawn, O Rising Sun.

*the Advent Candle is lit*

Let the sea and everything in it roar;
Let the world and everyone on it shout and sing;
Let the rivers gurgle in delight;
Let the mountains rumble together for joy:
The Sun-maker has come to set the whole world right.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored:
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the favored one.
Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail! the heav’n born Prince of peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!” 

O Hope-Bringer,
Inextinguishable and Eternal Son,
Sweetest Giver of Gifts,
who comes to us even while we sleep,
even while we are sinners,
with the Good News of God with and within us
no matter whether we have been bad or good;
like shepherds fresh from the fields,
and wise men weary from many months of travel,
we gather this day to worship and adore you.

O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

You are beautiful.
You are radiant.
You are marvellous to behold –
the shining Light of God’s glory,
the imprint of God’s being
on fragile human form,
cradled in human arms;
Emmanuel – God-with-us
that we might see the possibility
for peace and love and justice
to be borne in the midst of human hearts,
and human hurts, this day.

Kom buig nou in aanbidding
Kom buig nou in aanbidding
Kom buig nou in aanbidding
Voor Jesus die Heer

O Untiring, Unchanging One,
You started it all, laying the earth’s foundations,
crafting the stars in the sky,
knitting us together so carefully, so tenderly,
within a mother’s womb.
Sometimes we have been ignorant of Your great gifts.
Sometimes we have been ungrateful.
Sometimes we have been unfaithful.
Sometimes we have been unwelcoming.

*a moment of silence for confession*

Our Costly Treasure,
who took on our death that we might know life,
remind us this day that we are Your beloved children,
Sons and Daughters of the Most High God.
Show us how to welcome Your light
and walk upon the paths of peace
that the whole world might see Your grace,
Your victory,
and worship He-Who-Holds-Everything-Together.

Wozani Simdumise
Wozani Simdumise
Wozani Simdumise
U Krist’ inkosi

John 1:1-14 (The Message)
The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.

What came into existence was Life,

and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.

There once was a man, his name John,
sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light.
He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in.
John was not himself the Light;
he was there to show the way to the Light.

The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life
he brings into Light.

He was in the world,
the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
but they didn’t want him.

But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.

These are the God-begotten,
not blood-begotten,
not flesh-begotten,
not sex-begotten.

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.

We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

*a reflection is offered*

O Come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him,
Born the King of Angels:
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

True God, of true God,
Light of light eternal,
Lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father,
Begotten, not created:
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above:
“Glory to God
In the highest:”
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning.
Jesus, to thee be glory given:
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing:
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

Once we were watchmen upon the walls,
longing and praying for Your coming, O Christ.
Now we are lights upon the mountain,
full of Your light,
for You are born
and Your Spirit blazes deep within.

Be with all in need of rest and restoration,
Comfort and consolation.
May our lives shine like candles in their darkness,
A beacon of hope in their brokenness,
this day, and forevermore.
Amen.

There’s a light upon the mountains,
and the day is at the spring,
When our eyes shall see the beauty
and the glory of the King;
Weary was our heart with waiting,
and the night-watch seemed so long,
But His triumph-day is breaking,
and we hail it with a song.

There’s a hush of expectation,
and a quiet in the air;
And the breath of God is moving
in the fervent breath of prayer;
For the suffering, dying Jesus
is the Christ upon the throne,
And the travail of our spirit
is the travail of His own.

He is breaking down the barriers,
He is casting up the way;
He is calling for His angels
to build up the gates of day;
But His angels here are human,
not the shining hosts above,
For the drum-beats of His army
are the heart-beats of our love.

Hark! we hear a distant music,
and it comes with fuller swell;
’Tis the triumph song of Jesus,
of our King Emmanuel;
Zion, go ye forth to meet Him,
and my soul, be swift to bring
All thy sweetest and thy dearest
for the triumph of our King.

 

Advent 4: Participating in a new plan

On the final Sunday of Advent we are invited to become more than spectators to Christ’s coming; participants in God’s new plan for all people to know God’s gift of salvation.

This week’s readings are:

  • Micah 5:2-5a – the promise of shepherd ruler with an ancient and strong ancestry being birthed in the lowly and unexpected town of Bethlehem to gather together all of God’s people in a good and safe home;
  • Psalm 80:1-7 – a cry for restoration and salvation; for the Shepherd enthroned among the Angel Armies to shine his light upon the hopeless and humiliated;
  • Hebrews 10:5-10 – Christ Jesus accepts God’s new plan to save God’s people – not through burnt offerings and sacrifice but through the painful once-and-for-all sacrifice of God’s son – with the declaration, “Here I am, I have come to do Your will, my God,”
  • Luke 1:39-55 (including the Magnificat) – Elizabeth affirms Mary’s blessedness in believing the promises made to her, and Mary responds with a heartfelt prayer of praise to the One who will do great things for and through her, that generation after generation might come to know of God’s justice and mercy.

Call to worship (based on the Micah reading):
We go this day to Bethlehem,
smallest among all the clans of Judah.
Why would we go to a place so lowly?
Can we find anything of significance in a place so small?
We go to find a Shepherd born to lead his people to safety,
a King whose origins are from ancient times.
Looks can be deceiving!
And truly we have looked in all the wrong places,

been scattered in our search for security and peace.
Open our eyes to the majesty of the God-revealed,
the Peacemaker of the whole world.
Come, Lord Jesus, come our Shepherd-King
that we might worship and adore You.

Prayers of praise and confession (based on the Magnificat and Psalm 80):
With hearts and hands and voices, glorify the Lord.
Within the very depths of who you are, rejoice in God, our Saviour,
who looks beyond what others see,
beyond the sin and shame of our fragile humanity,
with eyes of love and favour.

Surely the Shepherd of Israel,
the Lord Almighty,
has done great things – for you, for me.

A God of mercy and of strength,
he lifts up the meek and lowly
and fills the hungry with all good things.

Just as we think that the world belongs to the proud and the powerful,
bring us back to You, God.
    Turn the light of Your face upon us so that we will be rescued from this world of darkness.

Just as we despair at the growing distance between rich and poor,
bring us back to You, God.
    Turn the light of Your face upon us so that we will be rescued from this world of darkness.

Just as we arrogantly grasp for control over the circumstances and struggles of our lives,
Bring us back to You, God.
    Turn the light of Your face upon us so that we will be rescued from this world of darkness.

*silence*

May the God of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,
the God who is faithful from generation to generation,
remember us in mercy forever.
For indeed, from generation to generation,
God’s lovingkindness endures for those who revere Him.
Bring us back to You, God.
    Turn the light of Your face upon us so that we will be rescued from this world of darkness.
Amen.

Communion liturgy (based on the passages from Hebrews and Psalms):
Holy God, faithful and true,
once the only way that people could enter into the glory of Your presence
was by offering a sacrifice for their sins,
a burned offering as laid down in Your Law.

Yet as they remained a rebellious and selfish people
and broke Your Law – just as we so often do,
Your Love entered into the world in a new way.

We remember this day, at this table,
in these simple elements of bread and wine,
Christ Jesus, the Shepherd-King,
who came to do Your will:
to secure for us our free and full salvation.

Once, Your people were starving;
besieged by their enemies,
full only of hopelessness and despair.
This day, we remember bread blessed and broken:
“Your body broken for me that I might be hopeful and whole.”

Once, Your people were drowning;
drinking tears of bitterness and regret,
drinking salty tears by the bucketful.
This day, we remember wine poured and shared:
“Your blood shed for me that I might be forgiven and consoled.”

 

And so, as we eat this bread and drink this cup,
we receive the healing, restoring gift of Your Spirit and we pray:
Bring us back to You, God.
    Turn the light of Your face upon us so that we will be rescued from this world of darkness.
Amen.

The benediction (based on the Gospel reading):
As John leapt in his mother’s womb
in recognition of the power and the presence of the unborn Jesus,
may our lives reflect Your light, Your love,
in a way which fills the world with hope and peace
this day and evermore. Amen.

Advent 3: People of Peace

While the second Sunday of Advent calls us to be people who who make straight that which is crooked and who set an example of an alternative way of life, this week’s lectionary readings focus on peace (from inner turmoil and anxiety, as well as within our community living) as the pinnacle of kingdom-life:

  • Zephaniah 3:14-20 paints an almost contradictory picture of our Mighty-To-Save-God who quiets us with love, who calms our fears, and gathers together those who have been scattered, fragmented. Likewise, in becoming people of peace there is a need to hold together strength with gentleness, justice with compassion.
  • Isaiah 12:2-6 is a joyous expression of our safety and security as we draw from the endless well of God’s salvation.
  • Philippians 4:4-7 reminds us to bring our anxieties and cares about anything and everything to God in prayer that the peace of God may guard our hearts and minds from that which would lead as astray from real life and abiding joy.
  • Luke 3:7-18 continues the story of John the Baptist as he preaches the need for repentance into the specific context of people, righting relationships and bringing about the restoration of the image of authentic community. From those who have much, he asks mercy for those who have little. From those handling money, he asks for honesty and justice. From those who wield power over others, he asks for integrity and contentment with what they have. From all who repent of how they have been living, he asks that they produce fruit as evidence of their sincerity and transformation.

Call to worship (based on the Isaiah reading):
God, You are our strength and our salvation:
We will trust in You and not be afraid.
We will dwell with You beside quiet waters:
We will draw with joy from the wells of Your salvation.
There will be in our hearts a glad song:
We will tell the whole world of the glorious things You have done.
So raise the roof and shout aloud:
Our Great and Glorious God is among us.

Prayer of praise and pardon (based on the readings from Zephaniah and Philippians):
Lord, we rejoice in You:
our Strength,
our Song,
our Salvation,
for You alone are faithful,
You alone will never let us down.

Though, at times, we are afraid that You have abandoned us,
Though, at times, we tremble at the evil and the wickedness within the world,
Though, at times, we worry about those who wield power over us,
we will never give up on the peace and the hopefulness
that comes with Your presence in our midst –
a mighty warrior bringing victory,
creating calm and quiet with Your love,
removing our burdens and care-fullness,
restoring songs of gratitude and joy.

For You deal with all that oppresses us;
You rescue the lame and the weary;
You gather up those who feel fragmented, broken and lost.
You change our shame into glory;
You restore our fortune and full life;
You bring us back home into the shelter of Your love. 

Forgive us, O Lord,
for when we have allowed anxiety to silence our praises
and fear to make our hands fall in inaction and despair.

*a moment of silent confession can be offered*

Don’t be anxious about anything
but bring your petitions and your praises to God in prayer
and Christ will displace the sense of worry at the centre of your life
with his enduring peace.

So may the peace of the Lord be with you:
and also with you.

*the peace is shared*

The Benediction (based loosely on the Gospel reading):
The coming of Christ turns the world upside down:
despair into hopefulness,
sorrow into singing,
fear into peace.
Come into our lives, Lord Jesus,
that our honesty, integrity, justice and mercy

may proclaim Your goodness
more powerfully than our lips and upraised arms do.
Amen.

Advent 2: Preparing the Way

Whereas last week’s readings invited us to see the signs God’s needed presence, we must do more than pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come into the dark and despairing places of our lives, our world.” The second Sunday of Advent calls us to be people who prepare the way: who make straight that which is crooked and who set an example of an alternative way of life.

The lectionary readings that give voice to this call this week are:

  • Malachi 3:1-4 speaks of the labour-intensive processes of refining and laundering that are necessary to purify and clean us as we make ready for God’s coming.
  • Luke 1:68-79, also known as the Benedictus or “Zechariah’s Song,” stirs notes of hope and anticipation of what it means to “prepare the way” as Jesus would and did – to make known our salvation through the forgiveness of sins, to shine with the light of God’s tender mercy on those living in darkness and in death, and to guide our feet in the path of peace.
  • Philippians 1:3-11 gives us assurance that the good work begun within us not only has its origins in God, but will be carried by God until its completion with the coming of Christ Jesus.
  • Luke 3:1-6 begins the story of John the Baptist who, as the prophets foretold, gave up a life in the wilderness in order to preach a gospel of repentance that would eventually cost him that life.

Call to worship (based on Malachi as the second candle of Advent is lit):
We come into this sacred space,
at this sacred hour,
hoping to glimpse the light of Your presence
and to feel the comforting warmth of Your hand
guiding us through the twists and turns of our lives.
Satisfy our desire for You, O God.
Come to us with forger’s fire and launderer’s soap in hand
that we might be pure,
that we might be clean,
that we might be made new in our meeting.

Prayer of praise and pardon (based on the Benedictus):
Let us give praise to the Lord, the God of Israel, who does not remain distant or untouched by our troubles:
Blessed be He who has come to help his people,
who has given us our freedom.

Let us give praise to the Lord, our powerful Saviour; descended from a line of servants to serve us as the prophets foretold:
Blessed be He who saves us from our enemies and our oppressors,
who shows us mercy and grace.
Let us give praise to God, the Father of Abraham, who is faithful in keeping promises and offering us protection from those who persecute us:
Blessed be He who who makes us good and holy,
who, as we worship, carries our cares and quells our fears.
Let us give praise to the Most High God and to Christ Jesus, our Lord, who has gone before us to prepare the path of eternal life and love:
Blessed be he who forgives our sins,
who gives us the assurance that we have been saved.

*a moment of silent confession can be offered as people claim the blessing of forgiveness as they have just blessed the One who Forgives*

With the loving mercy of our God,
a new day from heaven will dawn upon us.
May it shine on those who live in darkness,
who tremble in the shadow of death and despair,
and show us the way – step by step – to perfect peace.

 

The Benediction (based on the Philippians reading):
May He Who Began A Good Work In You
be faithful to complete it:
and until we meet again may we grow in love
and in the way of life that Christ would be proud of;

pure and blameless and righteous
to the glory and praise of God.

 

Advent 1: Pointing to God’s Presence

As I prepare for the first Sunday in Advent this week, I am deeply aware of the troubled and turbulent times in which we live; times that necessitate pointing again to the Hope that is Christ Jesus.

The readings for this coming Sunday are:

  • Jeremiah 33:14-16 – the promise of a good branch coming from the line of Jesse to bring justice, righteousness, safety and salvation;
  • Psalm 25:1-10 – a prayer professing our trust in God, confessing our own rebelliousness, and expressing our dire need to return to God’s good and upright ways;
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 – a blessing of strength, purity, confidence and love to flow in and through our lives while we wait in anticipation of Christ’s coming;
  • Luke 21:25-36 – a warning to heed the signs of Christ’s coming and, I believe, an invitation to find in the midst of the trouble and turmoil, spaces in which we can bring God’s needed presence.

Call to worship (based on the Jeremiah reading):
The time is coming when God will do the good thing God has promised:
God will open our eyes to Immanuel – God-right-here-with-us.
He will do what is fair and just and right.
He will bring us not only salvation, but also an assurance of safety.
There will be peace in our land.
And we will name him, “The Lord Does What Is Right.”

Prayers of praise and confession (based on Psalm 25):
O Lord Who Does What is Right,
we call upon You this day for You are faithful and true.
In You we put our trust at the start of this season of waiting
for, as the prophets foretold, in You we will never be put to shame:
darkness will never overcome us
and our enemies will never be victorious.
There is no need for us to be afraid.

And yet, God Of Promise For Whom We Watch And Wait,
sometimes our hearts and minds are so full of fear
that there is little room left for You,
just like there once was in that tiny inn
in that tiny town of Bethlehem.

We confess that we too have been sleeping,
that we have been selfish,
that we have been self-medicating:
drinking, shopping, working, screwing
to dull our ever-growing fearfulness
~ that water is running out and famine and crippling inflation will devour us,
~ that no city is safe from the unrelenting bombings and suspicion of those who are different,
~ that the world we have exploited is lashing out at us through earthquakes and fires and floods and disease,
~ that the life that was promised to people finally freed from nationalised hatred and bigotry is only an elusive lie as the powerful profit and the poor continue to cry.

O Lord Whose Great Love and Mercy Have Been Known Since the Days of Old,
remind us that Your ways are full of grace and compassion,
hope and righteousness.
Do not hold our sins against us
but put us on the good and upright paths
that lead to humility and restoration,
safety and salvation.

*silence*

The Psalmist assures us, “No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.”
“Guide us in Your truth and teach us, for You are God, our Saviour, and our hope is in You all day long.”

Communion liturgy (based on the passage from Luke):
Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man,
it seems like all hell has broken loose:
everyone all over the world in a panic,
the threat of doom hovering over us
~ in disaster,
~ in disease,
~ in dis-ease.

We thank You for this table –
the regular sign of Your presence
with and within us
in the simple elements of bread and wine.

In our woundedness,
in our fearfulness,
we remember bread blessed and broken:
“Your body broken for me.”

In our sinfulness,
in our hopelessness,
we remember the cup of forgiveness poured and shared:
“Your blood shed for me.”

*lighting of the HIV/AIDS candle set on the altar with the elements*

In our belonging,
in our belovedness,
we remember this day our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers,
still suffering from the stigma and the sickness of HIV and AIDS:
“Your light and love shine upon them, as they shine upon me.”

And so, as we eat this bread and drink this cup,
we receive the power of Your present and we proclaim:
“We will stand tall with our heads held high.
Help is on the way.
Hallelujah!
The Lord does what is right!
Hallelujah!”

The benediction (based on the Thessalonians passage):
Until we meet again,
may Jesus clear your way.
May he strengthen our hearts
so that we can be blameless and holy,
overflowing with love and light 
until Christ comes again.

A liturgy of gratitude for God’s good gifts

It is the start of our Rhona season – also known as Thanksgiving – a time in which we deliberately count the blessings in our lives and respond to God’s generosity with our own gifts of time, money, and talents. The liturgy below focuses specifically on the blessings of life and health, and gratitude as a spiritual posture through which we can become more aware of these gifts and expressive of our thankfulness. Congregational responses are indicated in italics and the hymn/song suggestions are in red.

***

Welcoming the Light:
Blessed be You, Giver of all good things,
Bringer of Light and Love,
and Life eternal,
for giving us this new day,
to be like no other,
this unique moment
like none before.

MHB 34 “Immortal, invisible”

Praising the Gift-giver:
Our Alpha and Omega,
Beginning and End,
and holder of every moment in between –
whether joyous or tinged with sadness;
Your generosity ripples throughout the Universe,
Your gifts like stars across the blackening sky –
too numerous to count though we can name a few.

Praise be to You, for giving of Yourself
in word and work as You shape the world around us.
Praise be to You, for giving of Yourself
in the humility and hope of Immanuel, God-with us.
Praise be to You, for giving of Yourself
in the delightful surprises that await us this day.
Praise be to You, for giving of Yourself
in the breath of Spirit with and within us.

Shine, Jesus, shine

Recalling our blessedness:
1 Corinthians 9:6 “Remember this: The farmer who plants a few seeds will have a very small harvest. But the farmer who plants because he has received God’s blessings will receive a harvest of God’s blessings in return.”

A time of testimony to God’s blessings separated by a simple chorus such as “Thank you Jesus/Siyabonga”

Praying for gratitude*:
Gift-giving God, fill us with gratitude this day:
Gratitude of heart that I might see the gifts of another.
Gratitude of mouth that I might sing their praises.
Gratitude of spirit that I might recognise the blessings You have brought me.
Gratitude of humour as I perceive the playfulness of Your giving.
Gratitude of eyes that I might deeply draw on the wonders of Your created world and know my part in its family.
Gratitude of open hands for all that You will place in them this day.
Gratitude of memory for my story which you have covered with tenderness and mercy.
Gratitude of feet for every step I take this day is a gift.

One or two more repetitions of “Thank you Jesus/Siyabonga”

Receiving God’s Word:
Luke 17:11-19 (The Message):

It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”

They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”

Sermon title “Attitudes of Gratitude”:

  1. The greatest enemy of gratitude is entitlement.
  2. True gratitude always finds expression.
  3. Gratitude is a gift for transformation.

Receiving God’s grace:
Come to the table of mercy

What abundance lies before us!
What generosity!
Gifts of the earth that remind us of how deeply we are cherished,
and how costly was the price of God’s love for us.

As we break this bread we remember how Christ took a loaf and tore it,
just as his body was broken that we might be whole.
God of grace, we are grateful for this gift.

As we share this cup we remember how Christ blessed and poured it,
just as his blood was poured out for the forgiveness of our sins.
God of grace, we are grateful for this gift.

And so as we take, and eat, and drink, and remember,
may our lives be open to the healing and the saving works of Your grace,
And by the power of Your Spirit with and within
may we become instruments of Your generosity.
Amen.

Communion is shared.

Responding in faith:
MHB 400 “Take my life”

O God for whom and to whom we are eternally grateful,
accept these gifts
as symbols of our love
and tokens of our thankfulness
for our life and health and many other blessings.

As our lives have been touched by Your good gifts,
May others be touched by ours.
In Jesus name, we pray.
Amen.

Sharing the blessings:
Hymns&Psalms 776: Make me a channel of Your peace

May the generosity of God
continue to delight and surprise you;
to find you in the unlooked for places,
and to transform your way of looking:

May you see the gift of a hand held out hopefully;
God’s invitation in the eyes of a stranger;
and your own abundance in the place of scarcity and want.
Amen.

* Prayer of gratitude taken from Tess Ward’s “Celtic Wheel of the Year

Perfect peace

One of the things that I love most about Scripture is how you can thumb past a passage time and time again without it having any real connection until, WHAM!, one day when you are in a particular spiritual space, it suddenly comes into focus.

This morning, the few lines of Psalm 131 had a significant effect upon me:

My heart is not proud, O Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quite my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

O Abba,
I confess that my heart has been proud:

full of selfish desire and ambition,
of secret wants and dreams;
I’ve been patting myself on the back
and holding my chin up high
in defiance of those who have neither seen nor affirmed me.

O Abba,
I confess that my eyes have been haughty:

that I have looked down on
~ those less educated,
~ those less articulate,
~ those less spiritual,
~ those less self-sacrificing,
in denial of my own inner poverty.

O Abba,
I confess that I have reached for things beyond me:
~ wisdom beyond my years,
~ position beyond my station,
~ meaning beyond my calling;
~ priorities beyond what truly gives me life
out of envy for what I could be missing out on.

Forgive me.

Still my soul.

Quiet my restless.

Tame my thoughts.

Curtail my desire to rush after that which will harm me.

Let me settle into Your motherly arms.
Let me enjoy being rocked back and forth to a place of calm.
Let the lullaby of Your love
affirm my belonging, my security,
and drive away my doubts and uncertainties.

And as my eyes grow heavy,
and my heart grows full of You,
and my head falls in perfect peace against Your chest
to better hear Your heartbeat,
fill my dreams with the hope
~ of home,
      and an eternity with You
         in such unbridled intimacy.  

Blessed to be a blessing

In Genesis 12:1-3, God promises to bless Abram with protection, with fatherhood, with greatness: he will be known throughout the earth for birthing a great nation.

Yet these blessings are not given for Abram and Sara’s enjoyment or fulfilment. They are not a reward for good behaviour or unwavering obedience. Each blessing that they receive is a gift to be passed on to others:

… and you will be a blessing … and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

This morning I am mindful of the blessings that I have received over almost 40 years of life; particularly in terms of the family that I was born into, the family that I was baptised into, and the family that I chose in marriage and motherhood.

These precious gifts from God are a constant, tangible reminder to me of God’s great love for me: they are the people who truly know me, who encourage me to live authentically, who support my choices and hold my hand when I get myself into trouble, who appreciate my nonsense and encourage my story-telling, who tell me truth that is hard to hear with gentleness and integrity, who laugh and play and love and cry and dare and die with me.

Gift-giving God, forgive me when I take such blessings for granted;
when I am so consumed with the longing for bigger, better, more
that I fail to see the immensity of love that surrounds me.

Self-giving God, help me to give as generously –
of words of affirmation and acknowledgment,
and postures of prayer and support,
that I, who am so greatly blessed, may in turn become a blessing.

What is that blessing that I believe I am called to be in the world around me? 

I believe my vocation is to use the creativity so lovingly nurtured by teachers and family and friends to create spaces in which others can connect with God, with themselves, and with others.  

   

The Best Way of Living

Once upon a time there were people who lived terrible, painful, back-breaking, heart-aching lives in a country called Egypt.

They were not Egyptians. They were slaves to the Egyptians. They hungered and they thirsted and they worked. They worked and they hungered and they thirsted under the baking heat of the sun and the cracking sting of the whip They worked from the moment the sun came up to the moment the sun went down and then they lived and loved and slept and shared of simple food in simple shelters.

Day after day, night after night this went on – from one generation to another – until they knew nothing but hunger and thirst and work and cruelty, and their groaning and their crying were always in the air.

Then came a man sent from God. He came to ensure that they were set free. He came so that they could remember who God was and who they were – children of the Great I AM who would be all that they needed.

This man, Moses, led them from the agony of Egypt into the dangers of the desert. He was leading them to a land of milk and honey, a land full of promise. But again the people had to hunger and thirst and work and walk and trust that I AM was with them and would not let them die.

And so they began to complain, to moan and groan. Some of them even missed the days in Egypt where at least they had had simple food and simple shelter. But I AM sent them a cloud of smoke to lead them by day and a fiery pillar to warm them by night and let them know that I AM was with them. And I AM helped Moses to find the food and the water that they needed to survive.

These were great gifts. But the greatest gift of all was given on the day that the people reached the safety of a holy mountain covered with fire and smoke. This was I AM’s mountain, and I AM’s servant, Moses, climbed to the top of it to meet with I AM face to face and receive the greatest gift.

What is the gift that I AM gave to the people, the gift greater than food or water or shelter or freedom or reassuring presence?

I AM gave these beloved people who had known such hunger and thirst and pain, the ten best ways to live in community in such a way that they would never become like the Egyptians to anyone else.

  1. Don’t serve other gods.
  2. Make no idols to worship.
  3. Be serious when you say my name.
  4. Keep the Sabbath holy.
  5. Honour your mother and father.
  6. Don’t kill.
  7. Don’t break your marriage.
  8. Don’t steal.
  9. Don’t lie.
  10. Don’t even want what others have.*

I AM knew that these ways would be difficult to walk in, but I AM also knew that those who had suffered in the land called Egypt and faced the dangers of the desert would have the courage to try and walk in the best ways. Most importantly, I AM knew that if they could keep to the very best ways, the memories of Egypt would become a thing of the distant past and they would be able to live in peace and harmony in their Promised Land.

10 best ways – so amazing, so precious that they were placed in a chest made of acacia wood which was covered in gold that could only be carried by holy people called priests who dedicated their lives to God.

But over time, the priests started to think that because only they were allowed to carry the very best ways, they were better than the people that God had given them to. They became full of the sense of their own importance. They became like the Egyptians from whom they had fled – beating the people not with whips but with extra words; with laws for living that they added on to the 10 best ways.

10 best ways for living became 613 commandments through which the priests grew rich and powerful and the people began to groan and cry out again in their suffering and their sinfulness, their brokenness and their illness, their loneliness and their poverty.

Then came a man sent from God. He came to ensure that they were set free. He came so that they could remember who God was and who they were – children of the Great I AM who would be all that they needed.

The truth is that he was more than a man. He was the Son of God and the Son of Man. He was I AM living and breathing and walking among us.

“I AM the bread of life,” he said and fed the hungry and ate with sinners.

“I AM the light of the world,” he said and cast out the darkness within people and opened the eyes of the blind.

“I AM the door,” he said and welcomed in women and lepers and children.

“I AM the good shepherd,” he said and healed those for whom no one else had cared.

“I AM the true vine,” he said and turned water into wine and shared the cup with those who would betray him.

“I AM the resurrection and the life,” he said and he brought Jairus’s daughter and Lazarus out of the grave.

“I AM the way, the truth, and the life,” he said so when one of the Pharisees who had prospered and profited from people’s pain asked him which is the greatest commandment, I AM pointed him back to the very best ways.

This time, he took the 10 and summarised them into 2 so that the priests and the people could always remember:

Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself.**

O Ancient of Days,
help me to remember
where I 
have come from
and where I am going;
what it has cost
for me to live free.
And in my remembering
let there be a re-ordering:
of my passions,
of my priorities,
of my relationships,
of the beginning of every sentence –
That rather than “I,”
every moment originates
from my love for “I AM.”
Amen.


* From the Godly Play series

** Mark 12:28-31, The Message

Prodigal Daughters

Meditating on Charlie Mackesy’s sculpture of the prodigal son returned home to his father’s embrace while on retreat this weekend, I felt God saying clearly to me:

“Beloved daughter,
flesh of my flesh and heart of my heart,
how I have yearned to be the arms you run to;
to wrap them tightly around you
and whisper tear-choked into your ear:

‘There is nothing that can keep you from my love –
no sin,
no worry,
no unspoken thing too big, too small
to dampen my longing
to laugh and dance and feast and sing
and work and love and rest and eat
and be …
… just be with you.

I’m sorry you’ve felt the need to stay away so long;
that you’ve thought yourself unworthy, unwelcome, unforgiven.

In my eyes
I hope you see only compassion
for the things that have hurt you,
for the times you have chosen wrong,
for the desperate, aching need to know you are loved.

In my embrace
I hope you feel how much you have been longed for,
how much you are my delight, my joy,
as my heart beats against your own.

In my welcome
I hope you believe you are at home;
that though you felt dead and distant,
you are alive and well;
that though you felt lost and alone,
you are wanted and found.

Beloved daughter,
flesh of my flesh and heart of my heart,
I will never let you go.'”

***

It’s good to be in the space to write and dream and know my belovedness. Thank you Daddy.