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.

Come to life

An “all-in” service for Easter Sunday

So often we want to rush to the end of the story – to banish the darkness and celebrate the light and life of Christ shining radiantly beyond the confines of the empty tomb. This service is intended to make room for the sorrow of the women who went to tend to Jesus’ body to give way to the wonderful news that he is risen.

Lamenting in …

As little children we are often afraid of the dark and of the unseen things that might lurk there.

As adults, we are more comfortable with turning the lights out; more certain that in the morning the sun will rise and banish the nightmares away. Yet deep within us, many fears remain: fear of change, fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of anything terrible happening to the ones that we love, fear of being the one left behind – grief-stricken and alone …

… like the mother, the dear friend, the faithful disciples of Jesus who had stood as helpless witnesses to his suffering and death; who in the dismal light of early dawn and with great despair in their hearts travelled together to his tomb … . 

TiS 345 Were you there? (verses 1-5 only)

4/ 5 women walk into the church with  symbols which they place on a bare altar. 

  • One carries the Christ candle with five nails pressed into it in the shape of the cross. 
  • One carries a large stone to represent the cold, sealed tomb.
  • One carries a folded white table cloth to represent the folded grave clothes. 
  • One carries a perfume diffuser or incense stick to represent the spices that they brought for his body. 
  • The optional fifth brings a bright basket of eggs (two normal and two which have have had the insides blown out) to represent new life and be used in talking with the children – this symbol is not placed on the altar, but on the floor in front of it.  

As they lay their items on the altar, they pray:

1st: Lord, I weep with all who suffer,
                              with all who are persecuted,
  with all creatures who endure our cruelty.

2nd: Lord, I weep with those who are lonely,
                                 with those who have buried a beloved,
                                 with those for whom life is harder than death.

3rd: Lord, I weep with all who are oppressed,
                                 with all who are bound by their addiction,
                                 with all who are wrapped up in suspicion and hate.

4th: Lord, I weep where the land is burning,
                                 where war has erupted,
                                 where tempers run high.

5th: Lord, I weep with babies abandoned
in garbage bins and school bathrooms,
                              with children abused by the people they trust,
                              with young people bullied, and silenced, and shamed.

Together: Lord, I weep. I weep. I weep.                                                     
                                
 They join the congregation, sitting at the front of the church. 

Looking for life …

The transformation of the altar is enacted as the Gospel is read.

Luke 24:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 

The incense/diffuser is lit and placed to the side of the altar (on the rail, pulpit, a smaller table).

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.

The stone is lifted and placed on the side of the altar, on the ground, opposite side to the basket.

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 

The nails are pulled out from the candle and placed next to the stone. The candle is lit and placed on the side with the incense.

Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

The table cloth is unfolded and draped over the altar. The candle is returned to the centre.

Alleluia! This is the Gospel of Christ.
Praise to our Lord! Alleluia!

Prayer:

Living One,
no tomb can keep You,
no door is closed to You,
no life is shut off from You.

Come lead us out of darkness into light,
out of doubt into faith,
out of death into life eternal.
Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord.
Amen.

TiS 370 Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Opening up …

Children’s Address (or sermon starter)

As you look at our Easter table, do you notice anything strange about it? Something that maybe doesn’t really belong there? (As my basket is a giant yellow chick popping out of its shell, I’m sure that the kids will be quite quick to spot it).

Hmmmm … this looks a little out of place. Should we see what is in it? Invite the kids to take a peek – but don’t let them touch yet. Yes! Yes! It’s full of eggs! These must be Easter eggs!! Would you like to eat one? (Taking care to pick a heavy egg which obviously still has yolk inside it, offer it to one of the children who should recoil at the thought of eating a raw egg).

Depending on their responses say something like, So it’s not an Easter egg? It’s just a normal chicken egg!?! Well, if it’s just a normal chicken egg then there should be something inside it. 

Crack the egg open into a bowl. O yes, you’re quite right. That’s not an Easter egg at all. I wouldn’t want to eat that either – not unless it was scrambled, with a little bit of cheese and tomato sauce on top.

But did you know that are some old, old stories that tell us where that the first Easter eggs were actually chicken eggs to start with? 

My favourite is the story of Simon the Cyrene. Simon was a farmer. His wife had sent him into Jerusalem one day to sell his produce to all the city folk who were preparing for a special feast  that  evening.   Simon had eggs to sell, something that everyone would need for their Seder table.  But when he got to the marketplace, there were people everywhere, shouting and pushing and spitting. So Simon put his basket down and pushed his way to the front to see what was going on. There, on the road, surrounded by soldiers was a man struggling under the weight of a wooden cross. He looked weak, like he had been up all night and taken a really bad beating.

As Simon watched, the man fell to his knees with exhaustion. One of the soldiers kicked him in the side. Another yelled at him to stand up. Simon just couldn’t help himself. He rushed forward to help – and so the soldiers ordered him to carry the cross of Jesus all the way up a hill called Golgotha or Calvary. 

There Simon watched as the whole sky turned black and Jesus died, hanging on that cross between two criminals. His heart was sad, but as he turned back he suddenly remembered: he had left his basket of eggs behind! His wife was going to be soooo mad at him.  He rushed back to the marketplace, hoping, hoping, hoping – and yes! There they were! Right where he had left them!! Remarkably not a single egg was missing, but, even more remarkably, the eggs were no longer white but brightly coloured and glittering. What a surprise!

Not like these eggs. Break the second full egg into the bowl. When we break them, we know exactly what we’re going to get. And that can be a little bit boring, and very disappointing.

Maybe that’s what it was like for the women we read about in the Gospel story. They went to the tomb which had been sealed shut with a large stone – knowing that inside would be Jesus’ body. Where there’s a closed tomb or a covered grace, there’s always a dead body. That’s just the way it is.

Next, pick up one of the blown eggs without really drawing attention to it and break it in the same way as you did the others. It should crumble in your hand.

Wait a minute! That isn’t right! That shouldn’t happen!!

Repeat with the remaining egg. Note the children’s curiosity and exclamations.  

These eggs are empty. Just like the tomb was when the women got there. They expected to see a body. But that’s not what they found! Instead they met two angels who asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead.

And that’s what Easter is all about – surprises. The unexpected happening right in front of our eyes. An empty tomb, a living Lord, new possibilities.

The children can be engaged in an activity like decorating or hunting for these “signs of life” – edible ones this time. 

Old Testament Reading (if using): Isaiah 65:17-25

 “See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

“Never again will there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
    will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
    will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
    they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
    or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
    so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
    the work of their hands.
They will not labour in vain,
    nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
    they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
    while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

Meditation/Reflection: Coming to Life

My focus is on “coming to life” in response to the angel’s question: why do you look for the living among the dead? The Isaiah passage points to the nature of the resurrection life that Christ makes possible: healing, delight, health, security, fruitfulness, meaningful work, reconciliation etc. The second half of the service consists of symbolic rituals/responses enacting this new life.    

Let us pray (words by Tess Ward – adapted):

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

As we leave the old
and step out into the new this day,
bring new life to our fingers
that we might touch the signs of Your life among us
and have faith.

The elements for Holy Communion are brought to the table
during the singing of:

TiS 373 Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life in the sacred meal we eat
that we might know You
in the breaking of our daily bread.

The elements are blessed and communion is shared.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life
to the work of our hands this day
that we might trust
the abundance of Your gifts. 

Thank offerings are brought to the altar or collected by stewards.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life
when You interrupt our selfish dreamings
and name those that need Your love and care
as our sisters and brothers. 

The names of the sick and hurting are spoken.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life to our eyes
that we might see You beside us behind our closed doors
and set forth with hope and with wonder
to proclaim Your eternal life
and everlasting love for the whole wide world.

Closing hymn: TiS 380 Yours be the glory

Sending out …

Alleluia!
Go in joy and peace with the Living One
who leads us forward.

Alleluia!
In the name of Christ, we come to life!

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.  




God of the “thrust-out”

I’ve been studying the feminist church later, particularly, the “church in the round” as a modern understanding of what it means to be Christian community. At the same time, I’ve been reading Rachel Held Evan’s book “Inspired.” As I looked at the lectionary readings this week these two influences together moved me from an academic discussion on divorce or how we enter the kingdom of heaven as little children to the times when I have felt kept at arms-length by hard-hearted laws and even well-intentioned disciples of Jesus because of my femininity. In my imagination, Sarai and Samuel were born ….

Based on Mark 10:2-16 and Psalm 26 

Sarai turns over the loaf of bread in her hands, oblivious to how soft it feels in comparison to what she and her son, Samuel, have just had for breakfast. She has no coin to pay for it in any case; for anything, really. She has only come, again, to the marketplace for a glimpse of the man who was – up until a few weeks ago – her husband. 

As he and his rabbi join another group of men, she sidles closer to hear the heated argument that is taking place.  “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” one sneers. “Yes,” her heart moans over the quiet reply, “it is lawful for a man to put his wife and child out on the street simply because she over-seasoned his dinner.”

Lost in her anger, her shame, her pain, she nearly walks away until the unexpected, inexplicable words root her to the spot. “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

The words that hold her fast have less to do with divorce than they do with the radical hospitality of the one who utters them.

Never before – not even amongst the most progressive of her husband’s friends – has she heard that, as woman, she is equal in the eyes of God: equal in God’s desire for her to have a blessed life, equal in responsibility for the state of her marriage, equal in the ability to demand that the one who has treated her so shamefully should be put aside.

She is “gerushah” – “a woman thrust out.” There is no masculine equivalent in her language, in her community, or in her experience. 

And yet, this man – the one called Jesus – who is known for his powerful teachings and miraculous signs – speaks of the sending away of one’s husband as if it is as natural as the sending away of one’s wife.

She shakes her head in disbelief; then smiles as she looks around the group and lists to herself all of the reasons that she has heard over the years as valid grounds for divorce:

“Oh, he can’t keep his hands to himself. Put him aside!”
“Ha, I saw him spinning around on the street just yesterday like a fool. Throw him out!
“And him! He’s far too noisy. Send him back to his mother!”

The smile swells into a giggle; the giggle into the first true joy she’s felt for many years; and both bread and hard-hearted husband are forgotten as she sets off to share what she has heard.

Later that day, Sarai returns to the place with Samuel in tow, as well as a few of the other discarded women with whom they had shared bread and light-hearted laughter and curiosity about the one who would dare say such things to the Pharisees. 

As Sarai points him out, the women began to jostle their little ones forward, to cry out for a blessing from the one who had seen them, who had proclaimed them equal.

This time it is not the law that keeps them at a distance; on the margins, as always, where the unwanted and the weak and the discarded seem destined to live. It is Jesus’s own followers with their coarse manners and rude rebukes that send the children scurrying back towards their mamas with tear-stained cheeks.

Unbidden, the words of an old song flow from her tired, wounded, angry heart; words her mother used to sing to her when life seemed unfair; words apparently penned by David himself during the terrible time of persecution when Saul was still king and resentful of the young shepherd and his harp:  

God, You be my judge and declare me innocent!

Clear my name, for I have tried my best to keep your laws
and to trust you without wavering.

Lord, you can scrutinise me.
Refine my heart and probe my every thought.
Put me to the test and you’ll find it’s true.

I will never lose sight of your love for me.
Your faithfulness has steadied my steps.

I won’t keep company with tricky, two-faced men,
nor will I go the way of those who defraud with hidden motives.

I despise the sinner’s hangouts, refusing to even enter them.
You won’t find me walking among the wicked.

When I come before you, I’ll come clean,
approaching your altar with songs of thanksgiving,
singing the songs of your mighty miracles.

Lord, I love your home, this place of dazzling glory,
bathed in the splendour and light of your presence!

Don’t treat me as one of these scheming sinners
who plot violence against the innocent.
Look how they devise their wicked plans,
holding the innocent hostage for ransom.

I’m not like them, Lord—not at all.
Save me, redeem me with your mercy,
for I have chosen to walk only in what is right.

I will proclaim it publicly in every congregation,
and because of you, Lord,
I will take my stand on righteousness alone!

With these last words she squares her shoulders, sets her chin high, and steps forward to challenge those who stand in her way …

… just as an indignant cry comes from Jesus: “Why are you getting in the way of these little children? Do you not know that my kingdom belongs to such like these? That they show you the way to enter my shalom, my peace?” 

And gently, lovingly, patiently, he takes each one in turn into his arms, wipes away their tears, asks about their family, and murmurs a blessing over them until dusk approaches and the noise of the marketplace dissipates as families head home for the evening meal.

Sarai and Samuel stroll home together in happy silence, their hearts full of wonder:

  • who is this Jesus who challenges the teachers of the law as easily as he does his own disciples?
  • how could he know of God’s intentions at the beginning of creation and suggest that the law was written by hard hearts instead of loving hands?
  • but above all, where is this kingdom in which women have equal rights and children are treasured heirs and how could they get there?

Transfiguring Worship

The texts for Transfiguration Sunday this year expand on last week’s reading concerning God’s constant presence and activity (light) in our lives, focusing on the dramatic interplay between light and dark, veiling and unveiling, sight and blindness: 

  • Psalm 50:1-6 – in both the rising and the setting of the sun, God shines forth – or “blazes into view” as the Message puts it; 
  • 2 Kings 2:1-12 – Elisha’s request to inherit the prophet’s mantle from Elijah is honoured when he watches his mentor ascend amidst whirlwind and fire until he disappears from sight;
  • 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 – Paul proclaims that the brightness of the Gospel fills our lives up with light but is veiled from those look only for the god(s) of this age;  
  •  Mark 9:2-9 – as God’s glory is displayed in the transfigured radiance of his Son, a word of affirmation is spoken from deep within a cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

 

Setting up the altar/focal point:

Familiar symbols on the altar such as a Bible or candle can be transformed this week with the simple addition of a gauze or veil draped over the items, hiding them partially from view.

Additional items include a piece of dazzling white cloth, folded or draped down the altar, or a simple arrangement of bright white flowers like lilies, tulips, or even daisies in a clear vase.

A lovely idea which does require planning, practice, and precision is to set up prisms or mirrors on blocks (at various heights) around a large candle or electric lantern. During the course of the service/sharing, these could be unveiled and lit – resulting in beautiful refractions of light or multiple mirror images of the flickering flame.

A wonderful idea for children or more informal/experiential worship:

images

Scratch art is the term given to creating an image by removing a covering layer with a pointed object like a toothpick or kebab stick.

To prepare for the exercise, colour in a sheet of cardboard with oil pastels or wax crayons. This can be an actual picture or simply blocks of colour.

Next, cover the entire drawing with a layer of acrylic black paint or a thick layer of black wax crayon (painting is far more time efficient!).

Depending on the level of involvement that you would like, you could prepare a single sheet and scratch out images related to one of the Scriptures for the day (I like the idea of God blazing into view with the rising of the sun and its setting and can see a lovely picture of the sun emerging between two mountains or over an ocean in my head) or share around how the true nature of things are sometimes hidden.

Alternatively, you may like to give each child their own scratch sheet (or teach them how to make one of their own) and see what emerges as they create and explore.

I will be using my scratch pad to illustrate the story of Elijah being taken up into heaven – etching the watching Elisha and ascending chariot into the dark paint.


Gathering In/Call to Worship – based on Psalm 50:1-6 (NIV)
:

The call to worship below centres around the decreasing repetition of the Psalm’s first verse amidst the others, drawing a deeper attentiveness to the mighty One, God, the Lord who has summoned us to worship.   

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun …
Our God comes

and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth …
He summons the heavens above,

and the earth, that he may judge his people.

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks  …
“Gather to me this consecrated people,

who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

The Mighty One, God, the Lord …
And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,

for he is a God of justice.

A hymn/song of praise follows.


An encircling prayer:

An encircling prayer from The Carmina Gadelica III through which we enfold ourselves in God’s care. This can be used as a benediction or blessing or, even, in smaller groups as a prayer for healing or provision accompanied by wrapping the person being prayed for in a shawl or cloth.

My Christ! My Christ! My shield, my encircler,
Each day, each night, each light, each dark:
My Christ! My Christ! My shield, my encircler,
Each day, each night, each light, each dark.

Be near me, uphold me,
my treasure, my triumph,
in my lying, in my standing,
in my watching, in my sleeping.

Jesus, Son of Mary! My helper, my encircler,
Jesus, Son of David! My strength everlasting:
Jesus, Son of Mary! My helper, my encircler,
Jesus, Son of David! My strength everlasting.

 

Day Twenty Nine: Liminal Living

Psalm 148

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Luke 2:22-40

Galatians 4:4-7

“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning 
but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instil in us.”

Hal Borland

What beautiful, and pertinent, Scriptures, for this liminal time: the old year making way minute by minute for the new …

… like Mary emerging from the period of ritual separation or purification following her son’s birth to present Jesus at the temple and offer her sacrifice of doves (Luke 2:22) …

… or Simeon, who had been waiting his whole life for the coming of the consolation of Israel, declaring that he was ready to be released in peace now that the Light was out in the open for everyone to see (Luke 2:29-30) …

… or faithful Anna, an elderly prophetess who spent all her time at the temple, fasting and praying, now breaking into an anthem of praise and thanksgiving to God at their Redemption come into the world (Luke 2:37-38) ….

Zion’s righteousness
blazing down like the sun at dawn;
Jerusalem’s salvation
flaming up like a torch in the darkness
(Isaiah 62:1)

– that now
when the fullness of time had come,
we might receive the Spirit of adoption
in our hearts
through that self-same child
and cry,
“Abba,

Father!

Daddy!!”

(Galatians 4:4-6)

not because of anything that we have 
attempted,
resolved,
done,
or not done,

but because God has clothed us
with the garment of salvation
and covered us
with the robe of righteousness
(Isaiah 61:10).

In this liminal space, we have the opportunity to experience neither a beginning nor an end, but an ongoing growth and transition
from slave to child,
from child to heir,
with God
and in God
and through God (Galatians 4:7).

Our experience of 
the earth bringing up its shoots 
in each shifting season
or of a garden causing that which is sown in it to spring up long after we have forgotten what we had even planted in a particular patch 
is a powerful testimony to the faithfulness and the capacity of God 
to bring righteousness and praise to full bloom within our lives in the coming year.

Rather than resolving,
planning,
striving,
failing,
(or even succeeding),
perhaps the invitation of this new year
is to rest,
to trust,
to receive 
what God would give God’s children.

May the Turner of our Nights and Days
give us hope in each beginning,
thankfulness in each ending,
and the peace of his presence
for each moment in between.

An Advent Candle Poem/Prayer

For use in congregations/communities who light a candle each Sunday in Advent leading up to Christmas following the traditional pattern of prophets (hope), Mary and Joseph (faith), shepherds (joy), angels (peace) and Jesus (love) … a simple poem/prayer in five parts with an additional “verse” to be said as a conclusion to the prayer time until the final verse is offered on Christmas Day.

A candle for the Christ-King
For whom the prophets said to wait;
He may seem slow in coming
but we know God’s never late …

This one is for his parents
On their trip to Bethlehem
For they believed the promise
That God would be with them …

The third is for the shepherds
Whose hearts were full of joy
As angels came to tell them
About a special baby boy …

Oh! How those angels worshipped
and their song rang through the air:
“Glory be to God on high:
His peace be everywhere.”

And now, with great excitement,
We light the final flame –
For Love has come into the world;
Christ Jesus is his name.

***

This verse is to be said on weeks 1, 2, 3 and 4 to explain the presence of the unlit candles. On Christmas Day it is replaced with the final verse.

These candles still are waiting
For their chance to shine –
they remind us to be ready
for a very special time ….

 

Job 1:6-22 – a prayer journey with children

The book of Job seldom features in our conversations with children – or adults for that matter – because its subject matter is so difficult to make sense of. Job 1:22 is a verse which makes us question our understanding of God’s goodness and our (carefully-nursed) illusion that the Christian life is a comfortable one.

Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth.
God gives, God takes.
    God’s name be ever blessed.

The “prayer journey” below does not try to articulate a clever theology around the concepts of blessing or suffering, but rather to respond to the invitation inherent in the story: to express gratitude for our many blessings and to pray for those who, when stripped of life’s blessings, feel unloved and abandoned by God.

***

Preparations:

  1. Cut-outs of some of the “blessings” listed in the story – children, farmland, oxen, donkeys, sheep, servants, a house, laden-camels etc. to be “hidden” in easy-to-find locations or kept in a box.
  2. A large world map that can be unfolded and laid out on the floor.
  3. Symbols of disasters like floods, volcanoes, bombs (for war) etc. that will be placed in relevant locations during the period of intercessory prayer – it is helpful to practice finding or possibly lightly marking the points at which these will be placed on the map.
  4. Tea lights or cut outs of hearts (depending on the age of the children).
  5. A copy of “May God’s love be with you” card for each child – along with colouring pencils, stickers, glitter etc. – download Worksheet.

***

Once upon a time, long long ago, lived a man named Job who loved God with all his heart and tried his best to only do what was good and right.

Now, Job had many things. Some people would call him lucky; some, rich. As Christians, we would probably use the word blessed.

Can you help me find/name some of the blessings that God had given this good man?

<children find the “hidden” blessings or name them as they are drawn out of the box>

<space for wondering is offered at the end of each statement below>
I wonder how Job felt about all of these blessings from God.
I wonder if you feel like God has blessed you.
I wonder if Job ever stopped to say thank you to God for his family and his servants, for his comfortable home, for the good land and all the animals he looked after.
I wonder if we should stop for a moment and say thank you to God for all of our blessings.

<the prayer of gratitude is introduced by singing, playing or saying the song below – can be used as a chorus during pauses as children think of more blessings for which they are grateful >

Count your blessings,
name them one by one.
Count your blessings,
see what God has done.
Count your blessings,
name them one by one
and it will surprise you
what the Lord has done.

God, we thank you for your goodness
and for the many ways in which you have blessed us.
We thank you for ….. <allow children/congregation to name the blessings for which they are grateful>

***

So Job was this good man who loved God with all his heart, but one day Satan came to God looking to make a little trouble. He teased God saying, “Job doesn’t really love you. He just loves all of this stuff that you have given him. I bet you that if you take away everything you’ve given him, he will hate you.”

God replied, “I’ll take that bet, but I won’t take away anything I’ve given him. You can do anything you want with all of his blessings though and then you’ll see that Job still loves me.”

Then the bad news started arriving:  <tear or crumple up each blessing as the news is shared>
Some jealous people stole all of Job’s oxen and donkeys and killed his servants.
Lightning struck the sheep and their shepherds and burnt them to a crisp.
Robbers took all of the camels and murdered the camel drivers.
And then, worst of all, a tornado struck the house where all of Job’s sons and daughters were having a party and all of them died, but the Bible tells us that not once did Job blame God.

I wonder how you would feel if you got news like that!
I wonder if you would still love God and try to do good.
I wonder if you would still think that God loves you.
<remember to leave time for wondering after each statement as it is crucial that children have the opportunity to express their natural reactions and then move directly into the prayer of intercession without evaluating their responses>

***

<place a world map in the centre of the circle>

All over the world, people have been getting bad news. Earthquakes in China and Mexico; floods in Florida and India; a volcano in Indonesia; war in Syria; terrorist attacks in London; famine in Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan have taken away people’s homes, their families, their land, their animals. <symbols representing these disasters are placed in appropriate places on the map – situations should be updated if used after date of publication>

Let’s pray that God’s love will be with them today as their hearts are full of anger or sadness or pain. <children put hearts or candles over each of the affected areas>

I wonder if there are any other people or places that we would like to pray for today. <while an appropriate song is sung, hearts are extended to the broader congregation to place on the map as they feel led>

***

<“may God’s love be with you” sheets are coloured in and decorated and can be taken home to share with anyone who needs a little good news>

Choosing well

A children’s lesson based on 1 Kings 3:16-28 – Solomon displays godly wisdom.

Preparation 

  • 2 identically-sized, solid bowls filled to the same level – one with sweets; the other with cereal or rice grains covered in a layer of sweets so that they appear the same.
  • 2 boxes – one containing biscuits and the other lasagne sheets or similar. Prior to the lesson the boxes should be opened carefully, the contents switched, and the boxes resealed.
  • 2 “presents” – one containing a boy’s toy in a pink gift bag and the other a girl’s toy wrapped in a blue gift bag.
  • Sufficient copies of the “with what do we measure?” worksheets*

Interaction

Present each of the pairs to the group – one at a time. For each, allow the children to point at which one they would choose and to share their reasons behind each choice. After their decision has been discussed, reveal what is actually in each container. Wonder with the children:

  • What part of our body helped us the most in making our choices?
  • Were they the best choices?
  • If you knew what was inside before you chose, would you choose differently?

Thoughts to share

  • Sometimes our eyes trick us. They tell us that what looks the biggest or has the nicest wrapping is the best and then we’re disappointed when we find out what is really inside. Sometimes they trick us into making friends with the wrong kind of people – people who look good and friendly and beautiful on the outside but who are actually mean and unkind on the inside.
  • In our story today, Solomon faced a tricky situation. He didn’t know which mom to believe – which woman had killed her baby by accident and which woman was the mother of the living baby? Instead of choosing based on what his eyes saw or his ears heard, he relied on his mind – on wisdom from God. He made the right choice and gave the living baby to the woman who showed that she loved the baby with all her heart – and all of the people respected him for it.
  • In order to make good choices we need to rely less on what we see and more on God’s wisdom.

Prayer

God, help us to choose:
right instead of wrong,
peace instead of fighting,
being kind instead of being mean,
telling the truth instead of making up lies,
measuring with love instead of our eyes.
Amen.

Worksheet pages

Click With what do we measure for children

 

* Sermon notes on “With what do we measure?” will be posted on Sunday (27/8/2017)

Called is at our core

For as many years as I have been involved in ministry within the Church, I have wondered:

What is the essential difference between those who call themselves Christians and those who affiliate themselves with a different religion or belief system?

It is a question which goes to the heart of who we are and what on earth we’re here for.  It gives shape to the way that we work, that we celebrate, that we love, that we give, that we speak, that we rest.  It is the core that keeps us standing and steady in spite of the challenges and difficulties of life, that allows us to move and dance with God’s Spirit, that enables us to reach out connect in a meaningful and life-giving manner with the world around us.

At our core is the fact that we have heard God calling us and have chosen to respond in a particular way that opens up new life: new ways of being and seeing and doing.

Each and every person in the world – whether Christian or non-Christian – has a special, God-given calling on their life.

George Bernard Shaw wrote:

This is the true joy of life; the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, being a force of nature rather than a feverish selfish little cloud of ailments complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Within every human being lies a hunger for significance; a need to know that our lives count for something; a deep-seated desire to leave the world a different place because we were here.

For many, this desire can become an overwhelming drive that leads down the path of increasing narcissism and inflated egos, but for the Christian this “drive” should manifest instead as an ongoing, unfolding call to discover who we are and why we were created.

As I understand it today, my unique calling is to use my sense of play and prayerful imagination to create opportunities for others to connect more deeply with God, with themselves, and with others.  It is a calling which has grown through my Sunday School years, to my acceptance of Christ as Lord during my adolescence, to the years spent preaching in churches and teaching in schools, to that moment when I first took off my shoes and stepped out from behind the pulpit in answer to the deepening invitation to come before God as I was.

The journey to discovering our life’s calling can be a daunting one.  Sometimes we may be afraid to undertake it because we’re not sure we’ll like where God might lead us.  Sometimes we simply don’t know where to begin, but Ephesians 1:3-23 reveals three calls common to all Christians that might provide a meaningful starting point for further exploration.

Ephesians 1:3-6 We are called to be children of God

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in my adult life is that God is not a God of demand and expectation but a God of grace and invitation.  God does not love us because of what we do or accomplish.  God’s favor is not swayed by the size of our house or the number of degrees on the wall.  God does not smite us because we’re late for church or forgot to say grace before supper.  Nor does God pour down riches upon us because we’ve been very, very good or put an exorbitant amount into the collection plate.

God does not need us to boost his ego or to prove his importance. God does not desire us to serve him blindly as slaves do a master.  This is what Paul tells the Ephesians that long before the foundations of the earth had been laid, he had settled on you and me as the focus of his love and blessing – and so we are called to be his family, his beloved sons and daughters.  We are invited into intimacy and unbreakable relationship with our Father God who makes us whole and holy through his great love for us.

The problem with this wonderful father-daughter/father-son image is that all too often we get stuck in the terrible toddler or teen years of our faith: we mistake the invitation for permission to behave like spoiled, self-centered brats who throw tantrums when we don’t get our own way or slam the bedroom door when we don’t like what daddy has to say.

The call to be children of God is a call to grow up and mature under the example, the affirmation, and the discipline of a dad who is strong and compassionate, just and forgiving, firm and creative, wise and good.

It is a call to discover which of his attributes we have inherited and to take responsibility for exercising them in a manner that brings honor to the family name.

It’s a call to exercise our free will and independence knowing that God is always available for a loving conversation when we’re uncertain of our choices or worried that we’ve somehow let him down.

It’s a call to celebrate our kinship, our connectedness – both to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to every single man, woman, and child who was knit together by God regardless of their race, color, gender, religion, sexual preference, socio-economic status or whatever other label we use to separate and compare ourselves.

We are all called to be children of the God who imagined, made, and named every one of us “very good.”

Ephesians 1:7-14 We are called to be united with Christ

This, this is the call that we think we know off by heart.  We hear it in the Gospel reading each week.  We sing glorious, spirit-lifting songs day in and day out about what Jesus means to us: how his sacrifice on the cross has set us free from the power of sin; how his resurrection from the grave has made us victorious, even over death; how one day he will come again to establish a new heaven and a new earth.

But the call to be united with Christ does far beyond a few “thank you’s” or uplifted arms or Easter tears.

For to be united with him means joining our hearts, our minds, our mission with his:

  • his plans become our plans,
  • his anger at the injustices of this world, our anger,
  • his defense of the adulteress about to be stoned to death, our protection of all sinners who stand in the place of judgment and condemnation,
  • his arms welcoming in the little children, our advocacy for the vulnerable and the voiceless,
  • his feeding of the five thousand, our responsibility for those living below the bread line.

Even his sacrifice upon the cross becomes the life that we are willing to lay down for another.

“It is in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for,” Paul tells the Church in Ephesus.

The call to be united with Christ is a call to look beyond the fortune and the fame and the protection and the power that we so often mistakenly equate with the abundance of life promised in Christ to the sacrifice and servanthood of Jesus that will make our lives truly significant.

It is a call to discover our part in the overall purpose that he is working out right now – in everything and everyone – for a praising and glorious life, an eternal life of peace and hope and love and unity.

Sounds good?

If we’re deeply honest with ourselves the promise of Christ’s shalom is actually problematic in terms of our desire to be centre stage and our tendency to evaluate the quality of our life against another’s.  When others are in hell, we can say that we are blessed, but what happens if everyone is blessed?

Sadly, our superior worth is all-too-often proven by how much more we have or know.  And one of the “mores” that we love to hold over others is the fact that Christ is on our side – as if he only cares for the fraction of the world known by his name and nobody else.

The call to be united with Christ is a call to the cross with our judgements and pride, with our pet hates and secret ambitions, with our going-through-the-motions-to-see-what-we-can-get kind of faith, with our prejudiced pictures of who doesn’t belong with us in heaven – so that we can be free. And not just barely free.  Abundantly free! that we might love and liberate those still bound by the fear of penalties and punishments.

Ephesians 1:15-23 We are called to be the Church through which God speaks and acts.

Not the Catholic Church. Nor the Methodist Church. Not Matthew’s Party Church.  While we may find meaning in the doctrines and practices of a particular denomination, the Church of Christ is far more than that.

Neither are we called to be the followers of Paul or Peter or whatever particular pastor or minister passed through a while back with the most wonderful personality or glorious preaching style.

We are not called to be the church with the biggest sanctuary, the best worship team, or the most miracles.  We are certainly not called to be the church on the corner in competition with the church on the other corner.  Or the church for the old people as opposed to the church with the young people.  Or the church for the black people instead of the church for the white people.

We are not called to be the church on the margins who piously keeps her hands clean of the politics and priorities of the world.

We’re not called to be a lovely little community club which gathers for the entertainment and upliftment of its fee-paying, card-carrying, uniform-wearing* members.

We are nit called to be a charity or a non-profit organization that gives handouts to the helpless and feels a little bit better about ourselves.

We are called to be the Church through whom God speaks and acts.  That’s it!  That’s our role.  That’s our significance.  That’s our calling: to engage with energy and passion in the utter extravagance of God’s work at the centre of human life and activity.

God calls us to get messy – to be hands on – where life and death and joy and pain are happening.  In shopping centers and schools, in retirement villages and paintball arcades, in hospitals and homes, in huge corporations and small home businesses, God longs to speak and act and chooses to do so with and through us.

The call to be the Church through whom God speaks and acts is a call to put aside personal plans and agendas, to challenge ungodly acts and self-centered ambitions in our structures and our leadership, to place Christ again at the centre of our discernment and decisions, to be the agent by which God fills everything with his presence – and not our own.

How do we reclaim the integrity of this call in an era of alternative truths and decaying moral values?

Paul prays for the Ephesians: that they will be intelligent and discerning enough to get to know God personally; that they will stay focussed and clear in the way of life that Jesus has opened up to them; and that they may see exactly what it is that God is calling them to do.

As you seek to follow the call of Christ within your community and Christian life may you hear the call to be a child of God and commit to knowing him personally.

May you receive the call to be united with Christ and stay focussed on his sacrifice and servanthood.

May you be challenged by the call to be the Church through whom God speaks and acts and engage with what it is exactly that you need to do and be in order to be the centre of your community and not just a church on the periphery of human life.

And may God give you endless energy and boundless strength to fill everything with his presence.

 

 

*A note on uniforms: this is not a dig at the various church organizations or denominations that wear uniforms, but a general comment about the standards of uniformity that have crept into our churches.  The “youth” often have a dress code that is different to the “elders” of the church, that is different to the moms, that is different to the singles hoping to find a good match etc.