Lenten letters

To my fellow pilgrims in this season of Lent

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

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

Uniting in Worship

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

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

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

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

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

The invitation of this week in Lent is threefold:

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

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

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne 

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.

Day Eight: Open Up The Way

Psalm 85:1-2,8-13
Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

During the first week of Advent, our call to watch and wait for the coming of Christ found expression in our lament for God to turn us again:
~ from the busyness that dulls our aching need for a Saviour,
~ from the pain of the world that makes us wonder where God actually is at times,
~ from the hopelessness and despondency that comes from seeing the “wicked” prosper time and time again,
~ from our apathy and inactivity in the face of the immensity of the world’s problems,
~ from our fair-weather faith and half-hearted commitment to live in loving relationship with God,
~ from the rubble and ruin of our plans and ambitions,
~ and from those who exercise authority over us in destructive and debilitating ways.

Which “turning from” was of most significance to you?

Which will be the hardest to maintain?

The readings throughout this second week give us a glimpse of what we’re headed towards as we invite God to open up the way to the good fortune and forgiveness, love and faithfulness, peace and righteousness that are characteristic of God’s coming shalom community (Ps. 85).

Today, in particular, we immerse ourselves again in the familiar story of John the Baptist who came, as the prophet Isaiah had said, to prepare for God’s arrival (Isaiah 40:3-5, Mark 1:2-4).

The message he preached was simple: forgiveness was possible; the old could be washed away; and One was coming with such power and presence that all could be transformed from the inside out.

We claim both the hope and the truth of that message through the sacrament of Baptism: that outward symbol of our inward turning from our old way of life to a new way of kingdom-living.

As a Christian, I have no memory of my own baptism as I was a toddler at the time; and as a teenager and young adult, I struggled to understand how something I could not even recall was supposed to be so significant.

But as a mother who has placed her children into a minister’s outstretched arms and entrusted them into the care of Christ and his Church, the imagery of Isaiah has special significance:

“Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock,
gathering the lambs in his arms,
Hugging them as he carries them,
leading the nursing ewes to good pasture”
(Isaiah 40:11, The Message).

This is the One of whom John the Baptist spoke with such reverence: a Gathering God – the Good Shepherd – who bundles us up in his arms and hugs us to his heart as he carries us and leads us to good pasture ….

On a large piece of paper express what the words “good pasture” may look like in your life – you may want to draw, paint, put together a collage, use words. Feel free to add to it over the course of the week.

***
Alternatively, you may want to remember your baptism. Ask a parent or family friend to share any memories they may have. Look through family documents for a picture or a certificate. If you have children, tell them the story of their baptism and why it’s significant. 

If you are not yet baptised, you may want to explore this further with your pastor and/or faith community.