A pebble in my hand

So, I realise that this is late – if you were looking for a liturgy for Ash Wednesday. But if you’re looking for a guided reflection in the season of Lent around the themes of repentance, rebuilding and renewal, well then it’s probably still in good time.

I used this as part of a day of prayer within the congregations with whom I journey to “the promised end.” It worked particularly well in less formal settings, seated in a circle, or around a table.

You’ll need two small bowls filled with dark and light pebbles (enough for each member of your group) and a candle.

Opening up

Welcome friends,
we meet here today though we are busy
and life is full of pressures and demands.

We meet to pray –
to pray for ourselves,
to pray for our church
to pray for the community in which we gather.

We have chosen to be here
instead of somewhere else.

For our time together,
I invite you to choose a small pebble 
to accompany you as we pray.

And, as you choose,
I invite you to share – in a single word or sentence –
why you have chosen to come
to this time and this place.

<the bowl is passed around and a dark pebble is taken by each person present as they share their choosings>

Prayer of Invocation

<a candle is placed in the centre of the group>

As we have chosen to be present,
let us open ourselves up to God’s presence … with and within us ….

God.
God, You are.
God, You are everywhere.

God of sand,
God of stream,
God of everywhere
in between…

God of the dry places
where the sun beats down
and the rivers dry up
and the grasses brown …

God of the streams
where creatures meet
to quench their thirst
and escape the heat …

God of hearts
as hard as stone,
struggling through life
as though alone…

God of children
called by grace,
to meet You
in this sacred space …

bless us
in this time of Lent;
change our lives
as we repent;

give us eyes to see
and ears to hear:
the time has come,
our God draws near.

<the candle is lit>

Preparing to listen

I invite you to take a moment to look carefully at the stone that rests in the palm of your hand.

Turn it over. Trace its outline. Study its texture.

See if there is any fault or blemish on it. Does its flaws make it less perfect for you? Or more beautiful?

Feel its weight. Is it light or heavy? How does it compare to the circumstances of your own life right now?

Consider its temperature – is it warm or cold?

Squeeze it tight. Now let go. Look again. Have you changed its shape or has it left an impression on you as you’ve held it tight?

Now I know it’s just a pebble, a small stone … but in our hands and along life’s journey what else might it represent or be?

<people are given time to respond to the question>

Like a pebble thrown into a pond, it could be a catalyst for change.

Like a stone in my shoe, it could be a painful grudge that I’ve held onto which has crippled my heart and my posture.

It could be a stumbling block – that I throw into the path of another or trip over myself.

Or it could be a journey marker which shows me the way to go.

It might be the means of slaying a giant.

Or a weapon of judgement with which I wound another.

The pebble seems less important 
than the heart of the one who holds it,
as we hear in our Gospel story today.

Gospel reading: John 8:1-11 (NRSV)

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 

They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. 

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 

And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.

When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 

Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 

She said, “No one, sir.”

And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

Prayer of confession:

As the woman’s encounter with Christ freed her from condemnation and from her sin, so too do we seek God’s liberating love as we pray (based on Psalm 51):

Have mercy on us O God,
according to Your faithful love!
Wipe away our wrongdoings according to Your great compassion!

Wash us completely clean of our guilt.
Purify us from our sin!

Because we know our wrongdoings,
our guilt weighs heavily within our hands.

We’ve sinned against You – You alone,
committed evil in Your sight.

Purify us with hyssop
and we will be clean.
Wash us and we will be
whiter than snow.

Create a clean heart for us, O God;
and put a new and faithful spirit
deep inside us!

As a symbol that God has heard and answered our prayers, I invite you to exchange your dark people for a light one.

<in a time of silence people make the exchange> 

Words of assurance
from Isaiah 58:9-12 (the Message)

Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

“If you get rid of unfair practices, 
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,

If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, 
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.

You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.

Meditation or group reflection on the passages

Prayer of response 

"Living stones" by Marianne Musgrove (with a few adaptations)

God, in this moment, remind us
that we are river stones
tumbled and polished,
burnished
by living water

We are unearthed fossils
revived 
by the warm breath of God 

We are 
stalagmite and stalactite
reaching out to one another –

We are skimming stones
skipping over translucent
water
fuelled by joy

We are
meteors blazing
trailing tails like wedding veils
eager to answer God’s call

We are 
rough cut stones
hewn to form a highway
the master builder placing us
just so

We are 
stones and dust and clay 
divine spark-animated – 
created and loved by God

And with Jesus as our
cornerstone
we’re built into a
spiritual house.

We are stones
we are living stones 

build our congregation, 
enliven our community,
reveal Your love to the whole world
as we lay down our lives
and offer our gifts
to Your glory.

<people place their pebble on the altar, offering their own prayers for the community in this place>

Benediction

Go into this community of <insert name> as builders rather than stone throwers. 

Point people to the God’s handmade beauty in all the creation. Stand firm with those weathered and worn by the harshness of life’s journey. And work together to build a temple of love for all who long for justice.

And may the peace and the power of our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer accompany you on your way – both now and forevermore. Amen.

The blessing of bread

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

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

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

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

***

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

One time, when they asked him, Jesus said:

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

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

Another time, Jesus told those who were following him:

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

Point to the bread: Grain from the field, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Addressing the congregation:

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.     

Into the deep

Peter’s story – Luke 5:1-11

They say that the definition of insanity is doing exactly the same thing in the same way and expecting a different result. But what was I to do? When the stranger stepped into my boat and demanded that I push off from the shore I thought that at least I could make a little coin after a long night of catching nothing.

You see I’m a fisherman by trade. As is my father. As was his father before him. I come from a long line of fishermen who have lived by the tides and, sometimes, died through the fickleness of the sky and stormy sea. 

Over the years our business has grown. Each night, my brother Andrew and I take out our boat with some hired men to fish for tilapia and carp and sardines which we dry for sale or export as fish sauce through the Mediterranean. The Romans just can’t get enough of it! Which is about the only upside to their occupation of this holy land, I think. 

Often, the sons of Zebedee – James and John – accompany us. We like to think there’s safety in numbers but out on the sea when a squall suddenly blows in, no one is safe really. That’s why, each evening, before we head out some of the help cooks a light supper over a fire on the shore while we carefully check; first, the nets so that nothing will escape them through some small hole; then the boats so that no lives will be lost through some small carelessness. 

We take our time. The boats are 8 metres long and 2.5 metres wide and we run our hands over every inch of oak and cedar that stands between us and the deep deep sea.

This night was no different. We chatted as we worked getting hundreds of feet of netting stowed away tightly, wondering how much we would catch, wagering which boat would net the biggest haul, bickering cheerfully over which direction to head out in as the sun began to set.

But the laughter faltered as the hours passed and, time and time again, we muscled the long nets into and out of the water. Time and time again, we pulled them in empty, rowed a way aways, and tried again. 

The silence deepened with the darkness until I wondered how long a night could last. How many times could I move and sweat and hope and guess in the vast emptiness? 

The sun’s first light was not a blessing but signalled, at least, an end. Yet the faces around me were grim with the knowledge that there was nothing to take back home for breakfast, not this day – and maybe not tomorrow nor the day after that. Because business can’t be good when you have nothing to offer.

James and John reached home first. They were already rinsing their nets when we pulled up beside them. I thought to myself, “They look so worn out; so weary.” 

That’s when I noticed them – a large crowd, loud and lively. Their energy and joy rubbed salt into the wound of our emptiness and despair. And that’s when the stranger stepped in. Uninvited. “Someone famous?” I wondered, as he spoke to me about using my boat for a bit to teach from.

As he spoke to my friends and neighbours – for I knew many of the faces transfixed by his words – I felt some of my tiredness ease, some of my anxiety settle. He spoke of a kingdom not like any kingdom I had ever heard of, or dreamed of, where sorrow and suffering was replaced by God’s shalom shining upon everyone. 

And I started to think “It’s really quite nice being out here with him – on the water under open sky and the warmth of the sun for a change, instead of in the dark working and waiting and hoping and praying for a good catch and a safe return and a fair price at the market.”

But just as I start getting comfortable, he turns to me and orders “Launch out into the deep.”

The men grumble. They remember that they’re tired. They just want to go home and get some sleep. So do I, really, but he promises a great catch and I want to see if he’s for real. So I agree. 

We row, we cast, we pull. But the nets don’t move. Backs strain; a few curses fly. I wonder if they’ve gotten caught on something – here in the deep and unfamiliar waters to which he guided us.

And then, a gleam of silver; no! a silver stream – never-ending – shining in the sunlight. We pull and we pull but the nets are so heavy we can’t get them in ourselves.

“John!” I shout. “Over here James!” Andrew exclaims – and our partners rush to join us. Soon our boat is full of fish. And so is theirs! There’s no room to work, to sit, to put the nets without us sinking. 

That’s two tonnes of fish! A month’s wage!! Never had we caught so much … never all at once. It’s impossible. A miracle. A promise fulfilled just as this man Jesus had said. 

I can’t help it. I fall to my knees with astonishment. Who is he that speaks with such authority of what will be? And why would he choose to get into my boat, into my life; to lead me into the deep, to this place of unimaginable blessing? I am full of wonder and shame and the awkward realisation that I am just a sinner unworthy to enter his kingdom, a fisherman unfit to be in the presence of such greatness.

Yet that is all he asks me to be: a fisher of men. 

“Come follow me,” he invites us. “Just as you are. And I will make you into so much more than you have imagined. If you have courage to launch out into the deep, to leave behind you the ordinary and the everyday of what you have known, to do the same thing in a different way, you will find a purpose and a power to your life that you thought impossible.”

And so Jesus comes into our lives today.

While we are doing the routine work of cooking or cleaning or tidying up, he comes.
While we’re earning our living, he comes.
While the very life we seek is slipping through our fingers, he comes.
When we’ve tried our best and have nothing to show for it, he comes.
When we’re tired and frustrated and ready to give up, he comes.
When the night seems long and the day doesn’t bring relief, he comes.

And every time, he comes, he calls with the invitation:
“Thrust out into the deep.”

Sometimes, we resent him for it feels less like a request, and more like an order. Sometimes, we’re slow to respond because we just want to rest for a while. Sometimes, we doubt that he has the power to keep his promises. Sometimes, we don’t even hear him because we’re too caught up in the push and the press and the noise of the crowd. Sometimes, we’re afraid to leave behind what we know, what we’ve accomplished, what we’re comfortable with. Sometimes, we stubbornly demanded that we be blessed before we bless another.

But each day, light dawns. 
And Christ shows up on the shore.
And he knows where we’ve come from 
and he meets us where we’re at
and he climbs into the midst of our circumstances
and he points to the deep unknown
where the miracle waits
and the growth
and the promise
and the glorious liberty that awaits each child of God 

who chooses not to be
desk bound,
root bound,
earth bound,
bound by sin,
bound by shame,
bound by fear.

Into the deep …
a deeper awareness of the world,
of our neighbour,
of the stranger struggling through life’s storm …
of who God is – to us, to them – 
of who and where and how God calls us to be …

Into the deep …a deeper experience of God’s kingdom coming closer,
of mystery and possibility,
of freedom and grace, 
of the transformation that takes place – not through planning or dreaming or willpower – but through the Spirit of God with and within us.  

Into the deep …
will you follow?

A child of books ….

We are a children of books,
a people of stories
that help us remember where we have come from,
where we are headed,
and who accompanies us along life’s way.

We have a word to offer,
a message of hope and of comfort
with which we have been entrusted –
not to hold onto or hoard for ourselves
but to give away
to the lost and the lonely,
the prisoner and the poor,
the burdened and the battered and the blind.

What promise might God fulfil through you this day
if you were to speak God’s truth,
share your story,
and offer your gifts in the service of another?

May God who spoke the world into being,
Who proclaimed our forgiveness even as he suffered upon the cross,
and Who comforts, encourages, admonishes and inspires us even today weave our words and witness into the greatest love story of all.

Amen.

Sharing sacred space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and we wonder for a while

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




Between water and fire

I have shared before how, at the age of 14, a word of prophecy was spoken over my life which left me a little skeptical, and a lot afraid:

But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:

‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Isaiah 43:1-2 (NIV)

Today, as I was reflecting on the foundation of my faith story as part of a six-week in-life retreat, I had an epiphany: that it has often been in the most difficult moments of my journey (the desolation) that I have grown the most in faith and humility and obedience.

The image above came into my mind of how God has held me through it all; for there have been fires and floods aplenty.

So … for those who – like the Wise Men that we remember today – are setting out on an adventure, answering God’s call, or just taking life’s journey step by small step with little or no certainty of how they are going to get through today, let alone tomorrow, a promise and a prayer:

God of Israel, God of Jacob,
God who creates, who names,
who forms, and transforms,
let me live this day in the space between
the blazing fire of Pentecost
and the cool waters of baptism.

When life’s flames threaten to burn,
and the floods to sweep me way,
keep me from fear –
for I live here:
safe in your hand.

Hold me in this place –
despite the discomfort:
here where the fire tests and purifies and refines me
but can do no harm;
here where the waters wash me clean and smooth out my rough edges
so that I rise reborn but never undone.

And may I live through all –
the light and the dark,
the joy and the sorrow,
the searching and the knowing,
the wrestling and the growing –
to proclaim Your faithfulness
to all generations,
Great God who never lets me go.

Dying to live

Let me make this clear: A single grain of wheat will never be more than a single grain of wheat unless it drops into the ground and dies. Because then it sprouts and produces a great harvest of wheat—all because one grain died.

The person who loves his life and pampers himself will miss true life! But the one who detaches his life from this world and abandons himself to me, will find true life and enjoy it forever!

If you want to be my disciple, follow me and you will go where I am going. And if you truly follow me as my disciple, the Father will shower his favour upon your life.

John 12:24-26 The Passion Translation

A wise word:

In becoming more,
we need to learn to let fall
all
but the power and the presence
of God with and within us.

The true measure of greatness
is our self-giving;
and the way to true life,
sacrifice.


Attentive

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

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

David Adam ~ The Path of Light

I have been guilty this year of neglecting attentive prayer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poppy Sunday

The prayers for this week’s Remembrance Service are taken both from the Uniting Church assembly resources (download from link at the bottom of the page) and a wonderful resource for Christian pilgrims and worship leaders: Tess Ward’s Celtic Wheel of the Year.

While the focus is on peace-making, I have chosen to use the lectionary readings for the week rather than some more obvious alternatives as they speak of the richness of human experience: the sanctity of life, the blessing of family (and children in particular), the vulnerability of the poor and the powerless, the inclusivity of God’s love and life, wise warning against the two-faced decision makers who are not prepared to give their all.

We see, especially in Ruth’s story, the protecting, restoring power of God coming full circle as Naomi’s advice to her daughter-in-law results in a good marriage, the birth of a child, and Naomi – in turn – being blessed by the love given and received. From loss, alienation, vulnerability comes harmony, security, the blessing of family, and the ever-expanding plan of salvation as Ruth (a foreigner) is written into the Messiah’s family tree.

As we remember, we recognise the difference that one life can make – in both its absence and its presence – and we are challenged to consider what difference our own lives will make in bringing about the peace of God’s promised kingdom, for all people.

I have included hymn suggestions from Together in Song. The service should flow through prayer and rituals related to the readings with the suggested hymns holding together a sacred space for our joy and sadness.

Let us remember:
peace begins with me

<water is poured from a plain jug into a plain (preferably transparent) bowl>

Blessed be you O Sacred Peace-maker
who longs for harmony
and weeps over the things we do to each other.
Indwell Your Spirit of peace in all we do this day.

Psalm 127 (The Message)

If God doesn’t build the house,
the builders only build shacks.
If God doesn’t guard the city,
the night watchman might as well nap.
It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late,
and work your worried fingers to the bone.
Don’t you know he enjoys
giving rest to those he loves?

Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?
the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows
are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents,
with your quivers full of children!
Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you;
you’ll sweep them right off your doorstep.

TiS 10 The Lord’s my Shepherd

Praise to you Suffering God.
You know the wounding by metal
of skin that was made to love.

Your prophets spoke long ago
of melting down weapons and bombs
to make machines for hospitals and farms,
of using money and intelligence spent studying war
on housing all and finding cures for our dis-eases.

Praise to you for not abandoning us
but remaining with us in the darkest dereliction
of our choice.

Be still in the silence and aware of the Love with and within …

<fresh, silk, or paper (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUiRFyPfwvU) poppies are floated on the water in the bowl>

O Holy One who came in peace,
your blood fell on dusty ground
like scarlet poppies in golden fields,
standing erect as graves,
for every father, son and brother;
for every woman too;
row on row of unmarked stone,
indecently clean and straight
belying the messy stain
that can never be eased from our story now.

As age shall not weary them,
may despair not overcome us.
We will not cover the spectre of terror with forgetfulness.
We will remember them.

<a candle is lit and, if appropriate, opportunity is given for sharing our remembering>

TiS 586 Abide with me

For all the war studied
and all the lessons never learned,
we offer our contrite hearts
and our sadness
and place them into Your hands.

<silence is kept>

Hear then the Good News (from Hebrews 9:27-28 The Passion Translation):

Every human being is appointed to die once, and then to face God’s judgment. But when we die we will be face-to-face with Christ, the One who experienced death once for all to bear the sins of many! And now to those who eagerly await him, he will appear a second time; not to deal with sin, but to bring us the fullness of salvation.

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

<the peace is shared>

Old Testament Reading: Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 (NRSV)

Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.”

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighbourhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Gospel Reading: Mark 12:38-44 

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Meditation: let us remember (peace begins with me)

<can be done as a responsive prayer with the congregation offering the alternate lines>

Giver of peace, we pray for an end to war
but there can be none without living for peace.
We pray for peace in the world
but there can be none without peace in the nations.
We pray for peace in the nations
but there can be none without peace in our communities.
We pray for peace in our communities
but there can be none without peace between neighbours.
We pray for peace between neighbours
but there can be none without peace in our homes.
We pray for peace in the home
but there can be none without peace in the heart.
Give peace in our hearts this day O God
and when the fighting of this world overwhelms us,|
let us know that peace begins with us.
Amen.

TiS 607 Make me a channel of Your peace 

Let us pray for all who suffer as a result of conflict,
and ask that God may give us peace:

for the servicemen and women
who have died in the violence of war,
each one remembered by and known to God;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for those who love them in death as in life,
offering the distress of our grief and the sadness of our loss;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

for all members of the armed forces who are in danger this day,
remembering family, friends and all who pray for their safe return;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for civilian women, children and men
whose lives are disfigured by war or terror,
calling to mind in penitence the anger and hatreds of humanity;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for peace-makers and peace-keepers,
who seek to keep this world secure and free;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for all Defence Force chaplains offering support,
encouragement, acceptance, compassion and understanding
wherever and whenever it is needed;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

for all who bear the burden and privilege of leadership,
political, military and religious;
asking for gifts of wisdom and resolve
in the search for reconciliation and peace;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those whose memory we cherish,
and those whose names we will never know.
Help us to lift our eyes above the torment of this broken world,
and grant us the grace to pray for those who wish us harm.
As we honour the past,
may we put our faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever.
Amen.

TiS 614 O God of love 

May God’s dream of peace bless the world.
May every gun be dropped so every mouth be fed.
May every plan of war be torn up so every person may go to school.
May every fist raised become a tender hand towards a child.
May all God’s people sit in the shade of a tree, without fear.
Be present in our choices – this day [and evermore] –
and use us in Your dream of peace.
Amen.

Hallelujah love

The texts for this week focus on the salvation love of God – to which we respond with hearts and minds and voices: HALLELUJAH! They are:

  • Psalm 146
  • Ruth 1:1-18
  • Mark 12:28-34
  • Hebrews 9:11-14

Chloe Axford at engageworship has a wonderful reflection on the meaning of the word “Hallelujah” as well as some creative ideas for the call to worship which can be found at https://engageworship.org/ideas/hallelujah-reflection.

A gathering prayer (based on Psalm 146)

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Lord God Almighty,
we gather together this day to praise You
from the depths of our innermost being,
for You are our hope and our help.

You are the Creator of heaven’s glory,
earth’s grandeur, and ocean’s greatness:
through sky and soil and sea You settle us
into this salvation life
which knows no end –
even when our bodies return to dust
and our plans and projects are over.

Unlike all our experts and politicians and distinguished leaders
who fail and fall,
You alone keep all Your promises
and we claim them now –
O Jacob’s Jehovah,
great Zion’s God:

justice for the oppressed (hallelujah),
food for the hungry ((hallelujah),
freedom for the prisoner ((hallelujah),
sight for the blind ((hallelujah),
restoration for the sinner (hallelujah),
protection for the immigrant and the stranger (hallelujah),
support for all left defenceless in their grief (hallelujah).

 Lord, You will reign forever:
You are God for good!
So receive the hallelujahs of our hearts:
some joyful
some broken,
some searching,
some hoping
but all gathered together in Your anthem of love.

Amen.

Prayer of confession (following the Ruth reading)

The world teaches us many ways to love, but most are based on selfish desires and the fulfilment of our own needs. Seldom are we prepared to make the sacrifice of Ruth, of Christ, and to bind our lives to another, lovingly, completely, unconditionally. And so, this day, we make our confession:

It is painful to confess, O Loving God, how hard it is to love
as You have demonstrated through Your own sacrifice and self-giving. 

We long for love;
we pray for love;
we sometimes even beg for love
or lie to secure and hold onto love. 

Yet, in our own offering of love,
there is often a hardness of heart,
a brokenness, a poverty
that speaks of past hurts and disappointments;
of an aching chasm between what we need and long for
and what we have received, endured, put up with.

Still, You call us to give expression of our love for You
in the way in which we love our neighbour,
forgive the brother or sister who has wronged us,
and embrace the stranger.

As we sit in the silence and savour Your Love with and within us,
we say sorry for the inadequacies of our own ….

<silence is kept>  

Here then the Good News (based on Hebrews 9:11-14):

Christ alone has made our salvation secure, forever.

Jesus has offered himself as the perfect sacrifice that now frees us from our dead works and our hard hearts to worship and serve the living God.
Hallelujah!

May his love for us cleanse our consciences,
heal our wounds,
and help us to love others as God loves us:
compassionately and completely.

In Jesus’ name we pray.
Amen.

<the peace may be shared>

Prayers for the world – I wrote a letter to my love 

In response to the meditation, the congregation is invited to write a love letter to someone who is suffering: the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoner the blind, the sinner, the immigrant or the stranger, someone left defenceless in their grief that were mentioned in our gathering prayer. 

For some, these will be people known by name; for others, it may be a person or group of people that they have encountered through the news or social media or church bulletin. Each letter should be a prayer for them in their current circumstances and an expression of our love and care.

After a few minutes of prayerful writing/drawing, the congregation sings “make me a channel of Your peace” – or similar – as they come up to the altar and “drop” their letters into a bowl or heart shaped container symbolising the love of God.

Words of mission

In God’s Kingdom, all are loved for who they are.
Hallelujah!
Welcomed, loved, healed, forgiven  –
we are not far from God’s kingdom.

And now, as we are sent forth,
God’s kingdom is not far from those
who are longing and hoping and searching for love.
Hallelujah!