Food 4 the Road 3: The Stump of Jesse

For our first Christmas in Australia, I insisted that we find a living tree we loved that would grow, like us and with us, in this new land.

Spruce me up for Christmas.

After several futile trips to garden centres and nurseries, we finally found the perfect little Norway Spruce and planted it in a big red pot and surrounded with poinsettias to mark the season. The tree itself was so small, however, that we had to hang the lights and few ornaments that we had held onto on a metal frame around the fragile branches.

Hmmm … I think the moose are multiplying in the Christmas closet.

This morning, as I braced myself to lug it from its sunny spot by the front door into the lounge, I realised that it is actually as tall as I am – and I’ll probably need a few more muscles to get the job done.

Seeds of hope

The lovely little leaves and acorns that I bought as decorations will probably also just disappear among the branches but they are symbols to me of the living hope that we honour and nurture in the time of Advent.

Yesterday, we read in the words of the prophet Micah, a reference to the Promised One coming to a little and unlikely place. But we also read that this One still to be born will have ancient roots.

Isaiah, too, writes of these old, old origins blending the promise that is to come into a past in which God has always been faithful:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
 from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

Isaiah 11:1

This is a great mystery of the Christian faith: that both past and promise inform our present hopes, dreams, and choices in life-givng, creative tension.

I’ll elaborate on that a little more tomorrow, but today I’d simply like to link you to a song by Heather Price entitled “Seed of Hope” which is a prayer for our environment in a time when we celebrate new life and beginnings and also recognise the ongoing hardships of those threatened by drought and bushfire.

Click on 07 Seed of hope on the website: https://heatherprice.com.au/downloads/carols-in-the-sun/

Food for the Road 2: Little and Unlikely

These beautiful advent calendars are two of my favourite Christmas decorations. Aren’t they lovely? Don’t you just want to peek inside at the mysteries they hold; mysteries to be revealed one by one each day in the journey to Bethlehem and the Christ-child in his cradle?

I can tell you right now that if you did slide out one of the drawers to discover what lies within, you would be very, very disappointed.

Each Christmas, with great intentions I declare that this will be the year that I find 24 (times two!) little treasures to point the way to what it most important (which is what good prophets do) and – every year – I simply don’t get around to it because of: lack of time, or lack of money, or a total lack of inspiration!

But, this year, thanks to a small prophet writing about a small place being of great significance to the whole, wide world, I’m inspired to do things differently.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Micah 5:2

The words of the prophet Micah are spoken to the people of Israel at a similar time to those of the better known prophet Isaiah, and the message itself is quite similar (though very brief in comparison). But Micah writes from a very different context: from a tiny village in the countryside where the life and death of the marginalised and the poor are determined daily by distant and greedy rulers, judges, priests, and even prophets. It is because of them that all will be destroyed, he warns.

Yet God’s future plans will not be ruined by the desolation of God’s people.

One day, the greatest of all kings will be born to a small family in the small town of Bethlehem. God will use the little and unlikely to change the world.

So, today, I labelled my lovely advent calendars: “Little” for the tree (which is very miniature in comparison to the Norwegian fir tree that we’ll decorate this week), and “Unlikely” for the reindeer-moose-thingy because – though undeniably cute – he seems completely inappropriate for our Australian context.

Into “Little” I popped a small scroll of something little that I can do that will make a small difference to another person’s life in some way. The first task was inspired by a very particular person and a very particular need but I’ve generalised the idea: Reach out in a sensitive way to someone who usually keeps others at a distance.

Into “Unlikely” I popped a small scroll containing a big prayer. With today being Cyber Monday, I prayed for the cancellation of debt and a financial breakthrough for individuals and families who are victims of our consumer culture. It seemed like a pretty impossible thing to ask for but … “though you are small ….”

Each day in Advent, I plan to add a scroll to both, detailing a little task that can make a difference in another’s life and a big prayer that seems so unlikely of coming true that we may not think to ask for it. And each day, I plan to offer both.

At the end of the Christmas season, the boxes will be full instead of empty.

So next year when each drawer is opened (whether with my family or my church community), there will be inspiration of simple gifts that we can give one another, and huge hopes to hold onto, and even – I hope – opportunities for thanksgiving and celebration as we discover that God is working in our world in marvellous and unlikely ways.

Note: even if you don’t have fancy advent calendars that you’re trying to put to good use or want to do this in a different season, you could label two jam jars and fill them with colourful post it notes.

Food 4 the Road 1: Prophets

At the start of the Advent season, we light the candle of the Prophets.

Prophets are people who come so close to God, and God comes so close to them, that they know what is most important.

Jerome Berryman, Godly Play

Generally speaking, prophets are not popular people.

It’s understandable really. Either they are throwing out some quite confronting warnings about where particular life choices might lead us (generally ending in despair, destruction, and death), or they’re painting such impossible pictures (like wolves lying down with lambs or an-all-you-can-eat-banquet at no cost or dry bones coming to life again) that you have to question their sanity.

It’s important to note as we celebrate our “prophets of old” in this month that prophets are not just people of the past.

Have you ever met a prophet?
How do you know?
How were they received?
What difference did their words make?

An important task of the Church today is, in fact, to exercise a prophetic voice in the communities and societies and countries in which we gather. In other words, part of our calling as Christians is to offer warning about where particular life choices might lead us and/or to paint seemingly impossible pictures of God’s future for the whole world with great hopefulness and expectation.

These are not to be our own desires or judgments ill-wrapped in “godly language” to suit our own causes or sense of what is good and right but pointing people to the One who promises the renewal and reconciliation of the whole earth.

During Advent, when we are particularly aware of God coming close to us in Christ, we have the opportunity to come so close to God that we know what is most important, that we have something to say in the world that can make a dramatic difference.

How can you come close to God over this special season?

Over the next six days we will enter deeper into the mystery of God-with-us through the prophets, beginning with Micah who sets us firmly on the road to Bethlehem:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Micah 5:2

Prayer

God of Promise,
we hear, in Christ, your greeting
to the universe as we enter into this season of mystery:
“Hope to you:
hope for healing,
hope for refreshing,
hope for a world made new!”

We confess, today, how hard it is to pay attention to the signs of your presence with us –
or within those who are radically different from us.

We acknowledge, today, how easy it is to speak criticism
or judgment or bad tidings
above good news and affirmation and promise.

We turn away, today, from the past that holds us captive
in the place of pain and despair,
as we turn in the light of your revelation
and the movement of your Spirit
to your vision for this new day,
for a world made new.

Open our hearts to the words of the prophets – past, present, and future –
as we seek to be signs of Your hope in this season.

In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

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

Safe Church Sunday

One of my particular passions at the moment is taking the “business” of being church and translating some of the policies, training courses, and decisions of our various councils and translating them into worship services that give our intergenerational, multicultural faith community and opportunity to engage with how they reflect our faith and help us grow into the love and image of Christ in the world.

Safe Church is often seen as a compliance issue is response to Work Health and Safety and the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse but it’s about so much more than that.

By identifying Safe Church Officers, publicly affirming those who attend Safe Church Awareness Workshops, and offering the whole community the chance to participate in building a sanctuary for all people, this liturgy hopes to shape consistent and authentic thinking about what it means to conduct church in a God-honouring, life-giving, and harm-free manner.

Credit given to the Church of England and Scott Noon’s “Life-lifting devotions for youth workers” for feeding some of this work.

Set up

As space allows, the sanctuary is set up in smaller groups with 6 to 8 chairs clustered around tables. Each table should be set with a brightly coloured piece of cardboard on which the letters SAFE are written vertically beneath one another (the blank side should be face up before the service starts), some felt-tipped markers, a centre-piece (floral, symbolic, or an image related to the “Sheltering God” welcome) and an ordinary plate and glass for a love feast. Posters containing contact details for Safe Church co-ordinators and helplines should be on display.

Sheltering God – welcome

Scripture is full of images of our Sheltering God:
who bears us on wings of love
and makes a home for us beneath the canopy of his wings;
who shelters us in the secret place in times of trouble
and keeps us out of reach of all our enemies;
who offers refuge from the storm
and a shadow from the heat;
who, with open hand, satisfies the desires of every living thing
and gives us our daily bread;
who comforts us as a mother comforts her child – 
nursing us, carrying us on her hip, and bouncing us on her knee.

Today, as we gather together to mark Safe Church Sunday (for the first time), we receive again the invitation to find
– in this time,
and this place,
and these people –
the shelter of God who soothes our souls
and shapes us into a sanctuary
that is God-honouring, life-giving, and free from harm for all people.

We bind our hearts together as we sing:

Gather us in, and hold us forever;
gather us in, and make us your own;
gather us in, all peoples together,
fire of love in our flesh and our bones. 

Signs of welcome

NAME-SHARING: At the table, each person introduces themselves to the group.

THE HELLO SONG – HEATHER PRICE: https://heatherprice.com.au/downloads/01-hello-song

RESPONSIVE PRAYER

Sheltering God, show us the signs of welcome in our worship.

Help us stand together, 
turn toward each other,
sing in harmony,
eat the same bread,
kneel side by side,
wave,
meet another’s eyes,
recognise a voice,
say a name by heart,
speak in unison, 
intercede for each other,
give thanks,
hear the same readings,
hug,
and join in a three-fold amen.

Sheltering God, show us signs of how we welcome one another
and build – together –
a sanctuary for hungry, hurting souls,
a place full of grace and Spirit and truth.
Amen. 

Settling into Scripture

SAFE CHURCH: As the people prepare to listen to the Gospel reading for the day, they are invited to think about what it means to be a safe church by completing the acronym SAFE with appropriate words and/or phrases. The following example can be displayed on a board or projector: 

Caring community
Headed by Jesus Christ
U
Real people with real joys and struggles
Called to be salt and light
Hope for reconciliation

Time should be given for groups to share their responses.

GOSPEL READING (chosen from Sunday’s lectionary – can be adapted)

Jesus was going through the city of Jericho. In Jericho there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a wealthy, very important tax collector. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but he was too short to see above the crowd. He ran ahead to a place where he knew Jesus would come. He climbed a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus. When Jesus came to that place, he looked up and saw Zacchaeus in the tree. He said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down! I must stay at your house today.”

Zacchaeus came down quickly. He was pleased to have Jesus in his house. All the people saw this and began to complain, “Look at the kind of man Jesus stays with. Zacchaeus is a sinner!”

But Zacchaeus said to the Lord, “I will give half of my money to the poor. If I have cheated anyone, I will pay that person back four times more!”

Jesus said, “Salvation has come to this house today. This man truly belongs to the family of Abraham. The Son of Man came to find lost people and save them.”

LUKE 19:1-10 (International Children’s Bible)

REFLECTION: LESSONS FROM THE SYCAMORE TREE

BUILDING A SAFE CHURCH, TOGETHER: The church’s safe church person is introduced and invited to share his/her thoughts on the importance of being a safe church community.

NAME, you have heard the call of Christ upon your life to be the Safe Church Officer of the [Name] Church.
We affirm your passion to protect others as a sign of God’s sheltering love
and we welcome your willingness to serve in this way.

Will you be watchful, yet caring,
trusting, yet ready to question,
and always available to those who may need support?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you deepen your knowledge and refine your skills
to the benefit of this church,
and encourage others to do likewise?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you work closely with your colleagues here
to ensure that all may flourish?
With the help of God, I will.

Faithful God, we thank you
that [NAME] has offered him/herself
as a Safe Church Officer in our Congregation. 
Uphold him/her by your love
and enable him/her by your Spirit,
that through his/her ministry
this church may be a place of welcome,
security and compassion,
that all who gather here may do so
in safety and in the knowledge of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Safe Church Officer reads the names of those who have recently completed safe church training.

I offer my gifts through the grace of God and with the support of elders and ministry leaders who have also completed the Safe Church Awareness Workshop. Today we affirm the most recent participants from [NAME OF CHURCH and participants are read out] :

May you always hold before us the example of God’s sheltering love and particular concern with the most vulnerable in our communities so that, together, we may be a sanctuary and a safe-haven for all. 

Let us pray together:

For your sheltering love over us at all times
We praise you, O Lord.
For your blessings on this worshipping community
We praise you, O Lord.
For all who safeguard the well-being of your people here
We pray to you, O Lord.
For the call to build a sanctuary for all that you give to each one of us
We pray to you, O Lord,
For your grace and guidance
We praise you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In groups, people have the opportunity to make their own commitment to building this sanctuary. Flipping over the piece of cardboard on which the word “SAFE” is written, those who would like to trace each others’ hands. During this time a song medley can be sung:

You are my hiding place, There is none like you, A new commandment

The “posters” can be stuck to exterior facing windows of the sanctuary – some displaying the hands and others the SAFE words.

A place at the table

In celebrating and committing to being a sanctuary which we build together, a love feast is shared in groups around the table. The elements will be brought to each table from the central table, with the wine being poured from a large jug and a small loaf broken and placed on each plate. By way of introduction the following is offered:

The night before his suffering and death, Jesus shared a final meal with his friends around the safety of a table in which he could speak some uncomfortable truths and prepare them for what lay head. This time of sharing now is a sharing of food and of sharing in the love we have for each other and for our Lord Jesus Christ who said:

‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’

In that love, we are the body of Christ whose Spirit is with and within us.

On this table in the midst of this community with whom Christ is present we set symbols to remind us of His presence and his promises to us.

A candle is lit.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world;
whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life”.

A loaf is broken and other loaves distributed with the words:

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. The bread that I shall give is myself for the life of the world”.

A cup of wine is poured and distributed to the other table with the words:

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

So share these symbols with one another, be part of the story of God’s sheltering love, as we hold space for everyone at the table. 

Each group shares the bread and wine together – as they wish.

SHARING OF THE PEACE (after communion)

Jesus said: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’

So may the peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Going in peace

NOTICES AND OFFERTORY 
Sheltering God,
as we offer these gifts to Your glory
and in celebration of Your embracing love – 
may You take also the gifts of our awareness,
our compassion,
and our desire to be more and more like You 
and build us into a sanctuary,
a safe-haven,
in which You are honoured
and life is shared and given
and all are kept safe from harm.
Amen.

CLOSING HYMN: Sizohamba naye


A prayer for sinners

(inspired by Luke 18:9-14)

God make us right with you – 

not right in the sense that we never do anything wrong:
we never cheat,
we never steal,
we never take part in adultery ….

not right in the sense that we earn our righteousness:
we pray out loud,
we fast,
we tithe on all our income, 
we behave better than other people ….

right in the sense that we recognise how complacent we’ve become
about our religion,
and in our interrelationships,
that we don’t even see the sin in the way we look down

~ on those who are struggling,
~ on those who are different,
~ on those who don’t quite seem to belong,
~ on those who do things that we’d never do ….

right in the sense that as we stand in Your 
     holy,
             compassionate,
                                        healing,
                                                     forgiving, 
                                                                embracing presence,
we feel unworthy to even look up at You
as we pray for mercy
and hear Your words: 

all who humble themselves will be exalted.”                        


Amen.

Consecrating the elements

A simple call to the Communion table for Sundays centred around storms or sailing stories.

When the dark clouds thicken 
and the squall rides high
and the wild winds whistle
and the storm birds cry,

we will find our peace 
at a table wide 
decked with risen bread 
and a carmine tide 

of blood-stained tears 
in a silver cup
surging, spilling,
lifted up

to the Southern Cross  
which points our way 
on the boundless sea
to the breaking day.

Who is this Jesus?

A reflection on Luke 8:22-25 for Storm Sunday and ahead of the Global Climate Strike ….

One day Jesus boarded a boat with the disciples and said, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they took off.

As they were sailing, Jesus took a nap.

Soon a squall came down on the lake, and they began to take on water to a dangerous degree. They woke him and said,
“Rabbi! Rabbi! We’re sinking!”

Jesus got up, and reprimanded the wind and the waves. Immediately the storm subsided and all was calm again.
“Where is your faith?” he asked them.

But they were both afraid and amazed, and they said to one another, “Who is this, who gives orders to the wind and the waves, and they obey him?”

Luke 8:22-25 The Inclusive Bible

Believe it or not we’re all in the same boat. And it’s taking on water – fast!

Whether we’re male or female, old or young, Anglo or Asian, wealthy or poor, Christian or atheist, politician or street-cleaner, living in first world Australia or war torn Congo, we are all vulnerable to and responsible for the extreme weather and climate events happening across the world.

From heatwaves, fires and droughts to hurricanes, heavy downpours and floods,
~ Earth demands our attention,
~ Nature reminds us of how fragile we really are,
~ and Disaster brings us together in acts of courage and compassion that deny our self-interests and defy all that divides us from one another.

We may well ask, in the midst of all this danger and devastation, where is the Lord God Almighty?

Luke’s answer, at first glance, is not a reassuring one: Jesus is asleep in the boat!

And whether we’re talking about situations that have us physically in fear of our lives or so mentally exhausted or emotionally drained that we don’t know how we’re going to make it through the next day, that’s just not the picture of God that we want to have in our heads.

Anyone of us who has gone through or is going through a tough time can fully understand that the disciples natural reaction in their time of trouble was to turn to the most powerful person they knew: wake up! Do something. Show that you care. Jesus, save us!!!

That is the cry of so many hearts throughout the world today – many of them not even believers; simply people so desperate that they’ll try anything.

Do we have any idea what it feels like to be waiting for that one final wave that will sink our boat and pull us down, down, down into the deep where there is no breath, no light, no hope and no-one is prepared to help?

We seem to have lost sight of the fact that the Gospel is not just the good news that Jesus loves me and died that I might be free of my sin and shame to live life full and free as I choose. The Good News as embodied by Christ Incarnate in our midst is that God is right here in the boat
with the abused wife,
the persecuted Muslim,
the homeless refugee,
the hungry child,
the last northern white rhinos
– with all of our sinking humanity, our groaning creation –

… for God so loved the world that he gave his only son ….  

John 3:16

I wonder what those desperate disciples were wanting Jesus to do when they woke him. Were they thinking that he could help them bail out some of the water? Did they hope that he would lead them in prayer and God would intervene on their behalf? Were they looking for a final blessing so that they could enter their eternal rest at peace?

They certainly didn’t anticipate that Jesus would scold the storm and it would listen. When he quiets the wind and the waves with a word, they are both too amazed and too afraid to even respond to his question, “Where is your faith?” 

Instead, they have a question of their own: “Just who is this Jesus that we’re following?”

It’s a question that we might want to add on to “how does this advance the coming of the kingdom of God?” as we seek to be an authentic, inclusive community of faith in this particular time and this particular place for the answer changes everything. 

“Just who is this Jesus that we’re following?” 
The son of Mary and Joseph?
A carpenter?
A teacher? 
A myth, a legend?
A historical figure?
The Son of God?
The Promised Messiah?
The Light of the World?

In our text today, in the time of need, Jesus’ disciples call out to their Rabbi – their teacher, their master. They’ve seen him heal a leper, eat with sinners, stand up to the religious whose practices kept people from knowing the presence of God. They’ve heard him preach with power, cure disease at a distance, and they’ve even witnessed how he raised a widow’s son from the funeral bier – yet somehow they have not understood who he is: the Lord of heaven and earth, the Living Word.

For a couple of decades now, we’ve been trying to repackage the Almighty God into Jesus, our best friend, soft and warm and cuddly and conveniently on call for emergencies or when there’s no one else around to care but, today, the One with the authority to calm the waves and speak peace to the wind asks us, “Where is your faith?” 

I want us to take a moment to feel the weight of that question, the intensity of Christ’s gaze on us, because the words are not just a reprimand in response to them doubting his power. I believe that beneath the surface lies a deeper question: why did you wake me instead of stilling the storm yourselves? 

Friends, we are more than disciples: we are sons and daughters of the Most High God. God’s Spirit dwells within us – the very same Spirit that hovered over the deep and brought life and light to the darkness and the chaos. And we have been given authority to go into the world, to get into the boats that are sinking as a sign of the presence of the Living Word with all that He loves, and to do more than try to rouse God in our Sunday services and occasional prayers ….

In the very next chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus sends out the twelve with no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt, to proclaim the good news and heal people everywhere. That moment in the boat of sheer desperation, that question “just who is this Jesus that we’re following” changed everything … and I wonder, this morning, what lies ahead in our next chapter as Church? 

With the drought, our young people calling for our support and action in addressing climate change, and the press of problems in the loves of people that we know and people we may never even meet, it can’t be
~ business as usual,
~ worship as usual,
~ giving as usual ….    

We’re all in the same boat. And it’s taking on water – fast! May God reprimand the powers that seem beyond reproach this week and speak “Peace” through us.

May the peace of the Lord be with you.

Storm Sunday

Ideas for intergenerational worship on Storm Sunday. I used Rex Hunt’s wonderful progressive liturgies for the Season of Creation as a starting point.

Call to worship

The windows of the sanctuary are covered with black fabric or cardboard and a black tablecloth is placed on the altar with a single, unlit candle. As people enter the sanctuary a digital display of powerful storms, accompanied by sounds of rain and thunder plays.

Before the call to worship is offered, one volunteer is positioned with a gong on one side of the church and children with an assortment of pots, drums, spoons and other “noisemakers” on the other. Other volunteers stand ready to remove the window coverings. Instructions are given on what each group must do when you signal to them.

In the beginning the Creative Spirit hovered over the darkness of the deep …
<a cymbal or gong is clanged>
… and into the emptiness, into the chaos the Living Word thundered
<a cymbal or gong is clanged>
“Let there be light.”

<the black cardboard or fabric is removed from the windows
while you light the candle on the altar>

And there was – Light and Life and Love.
<the gong or cymbal is clanged, three times>

This day we invite, through the Spirit,
the power of the storm to gather with us.
The wild winds and the dark clouds,
the lightning flash and the thunder roll.
The fierce gales and blinding rains,
the crashing waves and swaying trees.

<wild crashing of pots and pot lids by children>

But with our invitation comes the question:
Where is the Almighty in all of this?
In the storm?
In the cyclone?
In the tsunami?
In the thunder of the storm?

<wild crashing of pots and pot lids by children – followed by signal for silence>

Or in the stillness after the storm?
<the quiet is kept,
the storyteller takes their place behind the altar and lays out the pieces for the story to come,

the children can be invited to gather round with simple hand gestures> 

Prayers of wonder: Noah’s Ark

For the story on Storm Sunday, I use Godly Play materials and an adapted version of “the flood and the ark” which includes “wondering” invitations to prayer/sharing throughout. A simple children’s story Bible could be used instead with these responses added where suitable. 

I have included the “wondering” responses and the wording which precedes them below:

  1. But people began to do bad things. God decided to send a great flood of water to wash everything clean and make it new again. I wonder what we want God to wash clean or make new in our lives. 
  2. Noah and all his family began to build the ark. I wonder what God would like us to build together in this place as God’s family.
  3. But God did not forget the creatures on the ark. I wonder if we have ever felt like God has forgotten us.
  4. All the creatures began to come out of the ark. They were so happy to be home again that they could not help it. They had to say their prayers to try to say how happy they were. They made an altar and gave thanks to God. I wonder what we’d like to thank God for today.
  5. Suddenly, all the creatures saw a great bow in the sky. It was a bow of many colours. You can still see it today when there is rain and the sun is shining. Today we call it a rainbow. <Use the prism to create a rainbow in the room – you may have to experiment in advance as to where and what angle best catches the light – if you’re happy with a little more chaos, give children flashlights and let them figure it out>This rainbow was God’s sign to say that God will never send such a flood again. I wonder what promises God has made you and what promises you have made God.
  6. The creatures then went out into all the four corners of the earth and filled it up again with life. <These words lead into the prayers for the world>

Prayer for the world 

Like many places in the world at the moment, water scarcity is a major concern in our community – particularly for those who make their living on the land. Our faith community will be joining other congregations in the region in prayer for an end to the drought. While these prayers can be offered in the church, we will “go out into the four corners of the earth to fill it up again with life.” 

In a circle outside, with some chairs for those who cannot stand for long periods of time and bubble wands for the young and young at heart (echoing the rainbow colours inside), we will simply sing these four lines as our prayer:

Let it rain,
let it rain.
Open the floodgates of heaven.
Let it rain.

Children’s activity

We have been creating a Season of Creation panorama using the glass panels in our church. For Storm Sunday, the panel will be covered in black cardboard and the kids’ rainclouds will be added after the service.

The instructions for these cute clouds can be found at Raincloud craft.

Love Feast

After reflecting on “Who is this Jesus?” from the Gospel Reading of Luke 8:22-25, a simple love feast will be shared using the following words as a call to the table:

When the dark clouds thicken
and the squall rides high,
and the wild winds whistle,
and the storm birds cry, 
we will find our peace
at a table wide
where the Lord of Love’s 
pierced limbs and side
reveal the truth
that he is here
and death is done
and guilt and fear.

<the blessing, breaking, and sharing of bread and wine>

A land without paper

This liturgy was initially written for a Presbytery meeting and accompanied by a handout for Holy Communion. The hope was that people, in the first part, would encounter God in a fresh (paperless) way which, in the second part (with paper and moving into the business of the meeting) would help them to look at the words on a page more carefully. The original idea was a poem in an old book of devotions for youth workers by Scott Noon and Herbert Brokering.

You will need to prepare/think about in advance:

  • Familiarising yourself with the “script” sufficiently so that it can be dramatised rather than read
  • An appropriate gathering song that can be played through a sound system – I chose one with a mixture of English and an indigenous language as preparation for the acknowledgment of country
  • 6 pieces or piles of paper that can be torn up
  • Substitute, as appropriate, some of the details to fit your context e.g. the names of God
  • How people will exit and enter the sanctuary and what space they will have to wander around – if there are many with mobility issues, you may want to place a few chairs outside in close proximity for them
  • Service sheets for Communion – you are welcome to download and use the service sheets I prepared: A Service for the Eucharist.

Gathering song

When it is time and most people are seated in the sanctuary, simply play the gathering song which will draw them into worship. I used We are gathering/ Nganana Lurtjuringanyi Palula .

Welcome
& acknowledgement of country

Welcome!
Welcome!
Welcome!

We gather this day on holy ground,
on the good earth that God has created. 
<take shoes off if you like>

We stand this day on sacred land
and we honour the peoples of the Wiradjuri nation
who were, who are, and who always will be its stewards 
and our covenant companions.

We gather. <arms in a circle, drawing in>
We stand. <arms at side like coming to attention>
We lift up <hands move to cover heart>
our hearts and our hands <arms lifted up in praise>
to Unkulululu, 
Modimo wa rona,
Elohim, 
who brings us from barrenness into being,
to the excitement of life
and the fullness of this day. 

<the candle is lit>

Let us take a moment to celebrate each other.
May God’s heart of peace rest within you.
<people are invited to share peace with their neighbour>

Call to worship
and experience God in creation

This part should be very dramatic and high energy with the “there could be no more” list being accompanied by the shredding and throwing of paper.

Once there was a land that ran out of paper.
Oh no!
What were they to do? 

There could be no more printed agendas to maintain efficiency,
no minutes of meetings to make sure they were all on the same page, 
no spreadsheets to keep them up at night,
no insurance forms to complete in triplicate – just in case, 
no “important” documents to keep them looking down
instead of paying attention to what was happening around them,
no more orders of service to warn them what would happen next ….

IT WAS A CRISIS! 

What were they to do???

<people can offer ideas> 

Finally, some wise person spoke up,
a mother of four,
so she was not only very wise but also very patient:

“Let’s watch the children,” she suggested. 
“The children always seem to know what to do next
just by being where they are.
If they’re in water,
the water seems to tell them what to do.
And it’s the same with the sand,
or a tree or a steep hill.”

By watching the children,
the land learned to do what there is to do.

So today, we’re going to go out into the world for a while
to see what’s happening,
to wonder what there is to do,
to pay attention to what God is saying
through earth and sky
and plants and animals and people.

Some of us might walk quite far,
some of us might sit in the first comfortable spot we see, 
some of us might want to be alone,
some of us might go together. 

But, if we’re paying attention,
we’ll learn a little about how much life there is to be lived
and we’ll also notice when it’s time
to gather together again. 

<people go out to explore> 

Circle of praise and prayer

After 10-15 minutes, gesture to nearby people to come together, hold hands, start forming a circle, and start to sing a simple song that most should know or be able to pick up quite easily. You may have to go and gather people (without words) by holding your hands out to them and leading them. It’s also lovely if others are given a chance to start a song that they know.

When everyone is together in the circle again, spontaneous prayers of praise and petition are offered. The worship leader should start these prayers – first with an offering of praise and thanksgiving for how they’ve encountered God in creation and, later, for those who need to encounter God’s presence, healing, and power.

Return to the sanctuary 

One day when the land has watched the children 
and learned what to do by looking at the signs of life all around them, maybe one day, when paper is plentiful again
we will look at the words on a page with new eyes
and new attitudes and find new meaning in them. 

The worship leader walks back into the sanctuary, gesturing for people to follow if necessary. At the door, people are given a handout with the order of service for Holy Communion and final hymn.

Bible reading and sermon 

Holy Communion

We used a beautiful liturgy by William Loader. Here is a link to the service sheet: A service of the Eucharist.

Closing hymn (Tune to TiS 547)

This is a beautiful hymn written by members of the Iona community. It is easily sung to the tune of “Be Thou my vision.”

Praise to the Lord for the joys of the earth:
cycles of season and reason and birth,
contrasts in outlook and landscape and need,
challenge to famine, pollution and greed.

Praise to the Lord for the progress of life:
cradle and grave, bond of husband and wife,
pain of youth growing and wrinkling of age,
questions in step with experience and stage.

Praise to the Lord for the care of our kind:
faith for the faithless and sight for the blind,
healing, acceptance, disturbance and change,
all the emotions through which our lives range.

Praise to the Lord for the people we meet,
safe in our homes or at risk in the street;
kiss of a lover and friendship’s embrace,
smile of a stranger and words full of grace.

Praise to the Lord for the carpenter’s son,
dovetailing worship and work into one:
tradesman and teacher and vagrant and friend, 
source of all life in this world without end.

Blessing 

May the source of Life and Creativity that we name God
help us to live this day as fully and generously as we can
as we are inspired by visions and causes
that cannot be contained by paper.
Let us embody a larger life and a loving God
in all the little things we say and do and pay attention to.
Amen.