Easter 2 letter

To my fellow pilgrims on the path of resurrection life 

As Autumn’s umber fades away
into winter’s deepening, dark decay;
Christ breaks the confines of his tomb –
defying death, dispelling gloom.

Hope gleams with the rising sun:
sin is dead and love has won.
Though today may bring its share of strife,
we heed Christ’s call and come to life!  

I’ve never been much of a history student but, as a mom who loves to watch superhero movies with her teenage boys, I have begun to appreciate the “origin” stories of our faith in a new way. Not only do they graft us into the continuity of God’s great love enacted in generation after generation, but they also inform our imaginings of who we might be as Church in the future as we journey along the way today. 

The next fifty days of the journey between Easter and Pentecost are known within the Christian faith as Eastertide: the time in which the Church is born and grows and scatters to the ends of the earth as news of Jesus’s death and resurrection spreads. 

We walk this path with familiar characters like Thomas who had to see Jesus’s wounded hands and side in order to believe. We breakfast with Peter beside the sea as he is reconciled with his lord who has a special task for him to perform: “feed my lambs.” We marvel at the blinding majesty of God that can turn the most hate-filled persecutor of Christians into a powerful preacher of resurrection life. We visit the homes of Lydia and Dorcas which epitomise Christian charity and hospitality. 

And we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit who comforts, counsels, and accompanies us on life’s journey.

As is often the case for me over the Easter period, I find myself revisiting my own faith story in this time, for it was the dramatic narrative of the suffering Jesus that brought me into the Christian life at the age of thirteen. I would never have been able to imagine back then the calling that God would place upon me or how someone so shy and awkward and serious and self-conscious would be able to kick off her shoes and talk openly about God’s great love for the world.

This post-resurrection-preparing-for-Pentecost time reminds us that as Christ calls us to come to life, he gifts us tremendously:

~ with the power of the Spirit who dwells within us,
~ with the great cloud of witnesses like Thomas and Peter and Paul and Lydia and Dorcas who have gone before us,
~ and with companions along the way – soul friends who speak truth in love and help us to see God in our enfolding story, in the best of times and in the worst of them.

Being part of the renewal and widening of Christ’s Church begins with the recognition that each one of us has a unique story to tell of how we have come to Christ, and how in coming to Christ we have discovered real life. We also have the gifts with which to tell it – even if we don’t yet recognise them! 

My prayer for us over these next few weeks is that our Scripture stories of real people sharing their real faith will affirm and inspire our own witness to the power and the promise of the resurrection: that Christ will come again!

Yours in Christ
Yvonne 

Meditation: where God dwells

2 Samuel 7:1-10; Ephesians 2:17-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The lectionary readings set for the week do something a little strange when it comes to the good news that we have been following in the Gospel of Mark: they scoop out the middle of the story (the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water) leaving us with just the beginning and the end of this particular pericope.

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much left over to shape a meaningful meditation from. But when we lay these fragments of story about Jesus being deeply moved by and responding to the sheer immensity of human need with his transforming power alongside God subverting David’s plans to build an appropriate house to hold God’s holy presence with God’s own promise to plant his people in a place of peace and prosperity and the admonition to the congregation of Ephesus to tear down the barriers that divide their society and embrace the one new humanity that is united in Christ, a rather challenging question begins to emerge: where does God dwell? Where does God dwell?

From the earliest times, God was on the move – with and among God’s creation. In Genesis, we have that beautiful image of God walking among the gardens with Adam and Eve, enjoying the intimacy of fellowship and face to face conversation. In Exodus, we read of the fiery pillar and the sheltering cloud that led and accompanied the Israelites on their long journey of freedom. It is during that pilgrimage towards the Promised Land that the first tabernacle  – or tent of meeting – is put up: a prototype of all later temples and churches, a place where anyone can come to seek God.

But, unlike the temple that David envisioned and his son – Solomon – ultimately built, and unlike the ancient churches and the modern sanctuaries of this day, the tent of the
tabernacle could be assembled and dismantled to travel with the people of God on their journey. So God resided among them – wherever they were.

But once the conquest of Canaan was over and David had declared Jerusalem the capital and moved into his fancy palace, he grew ashamed of God still dwelling in the old tabernacle tent of their wilderness years. 

And God ultimately accepts Israel’s need for a temple, as God had accepted her need for a king but in the message that the prophet Nathan receives and relays, God makes it clear that God doesn’t want or need a house to hold God but is, in fact, the One who is busy establishing the house or dynasty of David and the eternal resting place of God’s people. 

And, indeed, history tells us that the temple which was meant to be a focus of God’s divine rule and holy presence became instead a place of privilege and corruption and division where the poor, the sick, and the foreigner were kept at a distance through purity laws that had more to do with the power of the priests and the greed of the community leaders than the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart that God so desired.

Does Yahweh Tsebaoth, the God of Angel Armies and the Heavenly Host, dwell there, within that context of containment and control?

It is, in fact, into this very context that Mark’s Gospel breaks through with the good news of God on the move again in the person of Christ Jesus – a healer, a teacher, a shepherd who was full of compassion for the crowds of aching, searching, hopeful people who followed him from place to place, desperately seeking in him the power and presence of the God who was with them wherever they were.

There is a simple truth which has  profound implications for our understanding of what it means to be disciples of Jesus in the world today:

Jesus did not come into the world to start the Church. 

At the very start of his ministry, he declared that his God-given purpose was to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom and he didn’t go about that by setting up a preaching place or taking over the temple but by journeying with and among the ordinary people who he encountered in streets and marketplaces, by wells and seashores, on the hills and in the storms, close to home and in the neighbouring country of Samaria.

And his disciples were called – and sent – to be part of that work, to extend the kingdom by travelling like pilgrims without food or money or baggage. At the start of today’s Gospel reading, they had just returned to Jesus to share how they had demonstrated God’s power and presence by driving out demons and healing the sick in Jesus’ name … not to advise Jesus of the prime piece of real estate that they had secured for future worship and ministry.

As the Church – the resurrection community entrusted with being the tangible presence of God in the world until the kingdom of God has been fully established – we have been guilty of living by the mantra of “if we build it, they will come” for far too long.

When the people of Gennesaret recognised God moving among them, they didn’t seek to control or contain it or to create an appropriate space to worship him. They were too busy running to fetch those too sick and too weak to run. And wherever Jesus was in the region, that’s where they showed up with makeshift stretchers full of broken, needy people who didn’t ask for much – just to touch the hem of his garment as he walked by for they knew that that would be enough.

A dusty floor littered with stalls full of food and baskets and sandals and cooking utensils and goats for sale, with a press of people bearing loved ones in in their arms, their
neighbours in on mats; beckoning, waving, calling for the Christ to walk down the narrow aisle in which they waited; hope rising in the air, excitement, cries of wonder, tears of celebration as people leapt to their feet for the first time in many years – full of the new life the Christ had come to make possible – what a radically different picture to so many of our churches and meeting places today: so neat and tidy and comfortable and carefully planned; the focal point of so many of our resources and our conversations …

… as if, once the lights go out and we’ve gone back to our ordinary lives, God dwells here and just sits around waiting for us to gather again.

“Who are we to build a house for God?” our Scriptures ask us.

It is God who is building the dwelling place that God longs for – not of bricks and stone and wood and gold – but of each and every one of our ordinary, imperfect, and often broken lives.

As we read in the letter to the Ephesians, the Holy Spirit of God is within us. This <hold hands to heart> is where God dwells – transforming us from the inside out, shaping us so that we fit together as an enduring symbol of the sweet message of peace that God welcomes all people into the family of God.

Our world today is as full of weak and fragile and hopeless people as it ever was – many who have been hurt and disillusioned by their experience of religion. Local churches in our communities are important in proclaiming that here is a place where the living God can be encountered. 

But God does not dwell in the number of windows that let light in or, really, in the fierce discussions and grumbling complaints that we often have about church property. God lives within us and touches the broken and the needy through:

  • the warmth of our greeting, 
  • the openness we show to those different from us, 
  • the hospitality of our table,
    the faithfulness of our prayer for others, 
  • the gentleness with which we hold another’s hand through a journey of hardship and struggle,
  • and the energy with which we run to find and to carry those who long only to touch the hem of his garment and be healed.   

May God forgive us for the times when our focus on the church
has been at the expense of God’s kingdom;
when our holding on to God
has gotten in the way of others touching the hem of Christ’s garment;
and when we have mistaken bricks and stone for God’s dwelling place
rather than our hearts, our hands, our homes.

And may the Spirit of God within us make us into a people who are on the move again to be instruments of healing, agents of reconciliation, and bearers of the good news of God’s kingdom.

Where God dwells

Resources for Proper 11B

Part One: In Our Worship

1. Welcome and notices

2. Opening prayer

from The Celtic Psalter

My dear King, my own King,
without pride, without sin,
You created the whole world,
Eternal victorious King.

King of the mysteries,
You existed before the elements,
before the sun was set in the sky,
before the waters covered the ocean floor;
beautiful King,
You are without beginning
and without end.

High King,
You created the daylight,
and made the darkness;
You are not arrogant or boastful,
and yet strong and firm.

Eternal King,
You created land out of the shapeless mass,
You carved the mountains and chiselled the valleys,
and covered the earth with trees and grass.

King of all,
You created men and women
to be stewards of the earth,
always praising You for Your boundless love …

… which we do now as we sing …

a medley of hymns/choruses appropriate to worship

I used:
O Lord, my God
How great is our God
As the deer pants for the water.

Part Two: In the Word

Old Testament Reading – 2 Samuel 7:1-10 (NCV)

King David was living in his palace, and the Lord had given him peace from all his enemies around him. Then David said to Nathan the prophet, “Look, I am living in a palace made of cedar wood, but the Ark of God is in a tent!”

Nathan said to the king, “Go and do what you really want to do, because the Lord is with you.”

But that night the Lord spoke his word to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Will you build a house for me to live in? From the time I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until now I have not lived in a house. I have been moving around all this time with a tent as my home. As I have moved with the Israelites, I have never said to the tribes, whom I commanded to take care of my people Israel, “Why haven’t you built me a house of cedar?”’

“You must tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord All-Powerful says: I took you from the pasture and from tending the sheep and made you leader of my people Israel. I have been with you everywhere you have gone and have defeated your enemies for you. I will make you as famous as any of the great people on the earth. Also I will choose a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them so they can live in their own homes. They will not be bothered anymore. Wicked people will no longer bother them as they have in the past.”

New testament reading Ephesians 2:17-22 (TPT)

For the Messiah has come to preach this sweet message of peace to you, the ones who were distant, and to those who are near. And now, because we are united to Christ, we both have equal and direct access in the realm of the Holy Spirit to come before the
Father!

So, you are not foreigners or guests, but rather you are the children of the city of the holy ones, with all the rights as family members of the household of God. You are rising like the perfectly fitted stones of the temple; and your lives are being built up together upon the ideal foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, and best of all, you are connected to the Head Cornerstone of the building, the Anointed One, Jesus Christ himself!

This entire building is under construction and is continually growing under his supervision until it rises up completed as the holy temple of the Lord himself. This means that God is transforming each one of you into the Holy of Holies, his dwelling place, through the power of the Holy Spirit living in you!

Reflection (with children)

Three symbols are placed around the sanctuary before the service – representing heaven, the ark of the covenant, and the temple of Jerusalem. Children are asked to look for the object that matches the question asked of them. When they have found the “correct” object for each question, the congregation will respond with whether or not that is a place where God dwells.

Where does God dwell?
In an unseen heaven far away
where we’ll meet Him on our judgment day?
No, no! God’s much nearer than that!

Where does God dwell?
In an oblong box of acacia wood
where She fits in snug as we think She should?
No, no! God’s much bigger than that!

Where does God dwell?
In a fancy temple made by human hands –
a holy place where few can stand?
No, no! God’s more loving than that!

Then where does God dwell?
What’s left to see?
Where has God gone?
Where could God be? 

An opportunity is given for the children (and congregation) to wonder about this. In our service, the children then gathered around a table to trace and colour in their hands which would be used later in the service in answer to the question.

Gospel reading – Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 (NIV)

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

*** 

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Sermon/meditation: Where God dwells

Holy Communion

Great and glorious God,
we praise You for Your great love for us
which does not ever leave us alone –
not when we’re weak,
not when we’re hurting,
not even when we’re full of sin and shame.

We thank You for that love made visible in Your Son
who took on human form to be present with us,
to share our suffering,
to feel our pain,
to die our death,
and – through his resurrection –
to open up the intimacy of a face-to-face relationship with You again. 

He ascended into heaven
that we might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
dwelling with and within us;
offering counsel and comfort
and wisdom and strength.

Forgive us for the times when our focus on the church
has been at the expense of Your kingdom;
when our holding on to You
has gotten in the way of others touching the hem of Your garment;
when we have mistaken bricks and stone for Your dwelling place
rather than our hearts, our hands, our homes.

As we come to the sacred space of this table,
with its familiar gifts of bread and wine
reminding us of Your presence in the everyday and the ordinary,
may we bear before You the brokenness and the longing
of those who are unable to be here,
of those who do not yet know of Your great love for them,
of those for whom the church has become a place of rejection
or disappointment or abuse.

<Communion continues with the words of institution/consecration …>

Part Three: In our Witness

The children’s “handiwork” is held up for the congregation who respond:
God’s right here!
In hands big and small,
we hold the hand of the King of all. 

The peace is shared.

God’s right here!
In hands that hold
the sick, the lost, the poor, the old.

The people hold their hands open as they offer their prayers of intercession for the world.

God’s right here!
In hands stretched out
to share God’s love all about.

The offertory is taken and blessed. 

Words of Mission and Benediction

God is on the move!

May we move with God
as instruments of healing,
agents of reconciliation,
and bearers of the sweet peace of Christ Jesus
to all people – near and distant.

And may the peace, the love, the hope
of God with and within us
permeate our hearts, our hands, our homes –
this day and forever. Amen.

Closing hymn/chorus

I used Hear our praises.

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.

 

 

Grow up!

In Ephesians 4:1-16, the apostle Paul provides a perfect picture of what it means to be a Christian: walk – no! RUN – on the road God has called us to travel. No one sitting on their hands idle. No one strolling down a path that leads to nowhere. No one declaring at the top of their lungs, “I’ll do it my way!” No fits and starts; no frantic, inconsistent bursts of activity … but all of us, as part of a Christian community, traveling together in the same direction, sharing:

  • the same faith,
  • the same hope,
  • the same baptism,
  • the same God and Father of all.

In essence, in this passage, Paul instructs those who call themselves Christians to act like grown ups: pouring themselves out for each other in acts of love, accepting one another’s differences, mending any disagreements, serving one another with humility and discipline.

It’s actually a little offensive, especially as adults, to be told that we need to grow up but when we look closely at our actions or talk to those who have left the church disillusioned, it becomes a pertinent word for us when …

… we come to the table to share in the body and blood of Christ but are actually not speaking to each other because of deep-seated mistrust and resentment …

… we are so moved by our Sunday worship that we sign up for a ministry or a course we  feel that God is calling us to but within a week have lost all passion and energy and will to show up and let God surprise us …

… we can’t wait to make it to a leadership position because then we no longer have to be a follower but have the power to pursue our own picture, to advance our own agenda …

… we pick and choose Scripture in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves and others downright terrible about themselves …

… we make others pay for the privilege of worshipping with us, praying with us, fellowshipping with us or learning with us, rather than tithing consistently so that the church can do whatever, whenever she hears the Spirit prompting …

… we show up only if we’re interested in who’s preaching or what they have to say or, simply, have an errand-free morning for a change …

… we claim to love the uniqueness, the newness of a church community then set out to make it exactly the same as the one from which we came …

… we just can’t seem to show up on time – not for one another; not even for God …

… we stop showing up at all because we no longer “feel” the worship or know the songs or like the way that things are being done ….

Paul reminds us that in many ways we are still infants, small children, spiritual babes who God wants to grow up knowing the whole truth and telling it in love.

And the truth begins with:

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,
a sinner, a fake, a fraud,
a babe in the woods who has failed to stay on your straight paths
but strolled off on my own meandering way.

Forgive me for 
the poverty of my faith,
the withholding of my love,
the enormity of my ego,
the strife in my relationships,
the lack of discipline in my discipleship
and humility in my leadership.

Show me how I cling to my childish ways;
strip me of my preconceived ideas and grand notions;
put me into deep waters where I will learn to depend on your strength and your grace;
comfort and sustain me as I experience the pain of growth
and the inconvenience of having to change direction
and learning to walk at a new pace.

In the name of the One who descended to the dead
and ascended into heaven,
may I be free from the things that hold me back –
the hurts, the grudges, the time pressures, the secret ambitions –
that I may move rhythmically and easily 
with you and with all your beloved:
a fully mature adult;
fully developed;
fully alive, in and through, and with Christ.

Me, me, me is the language of infants whose world revolves around their needs; the talk of toddlers throwing tantrums in the middle of the floor when they cannot get their way.

“We” is the language that permeates us with Oneness;  that connects us with the triune nature of God; that allows our differences to become gifts to one another and our disagreements to be dealt with humbly and gently, even as we stay together through the difficulty and discomfort of conflict or change.

May there be more of “we” and less of “me” as we surrender to Christ as the source of everything we do and the head who keeps us in step with each other.

 

Affirmation

*testimony shared at my Witness service as a candidate for Ordination*

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa has always been home to me – family.

From my youngest years when I was content to eat the chocolate cake crumbs that escaped my mother’s plate as she fellowshipped with other young mothers, to my formative years when the stories of Jesus sat proudly beside “The Adventures of Hercules” and Enid Blyton’s “Enchanted Wood” on my bookshelf, church was a place to play, to be, to belong.

At the age of 13, as I watched the Easter story being dramatised at our youth church one Sunday, it suddenly struck home: the reality of God’s great love for me and the suffering that Jesus was prepared to endure for my salvation. And so I became a participant rather than an observer – in God’s story and in God’s community – attending Bible studies and youth events and then leading them.

At 18, I was passionate about God and God’s people, but I also had very distinct plans for my future.

Then, one evening during worship, I heard the voice of God within and around me telling me that God had other plans. I returned home feeling a little confused, a lot anxious; wondering whether I had imagined the whole thing; praying for confirmation of God’s will in God’s Word.

The Spirit led me to Paul’s first letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12-16) and the message was clear:

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity….

Devote yourself to preaching and to teaching….

Watch your life and doctrine closely and you will save both yourself and your hearers.

I was surprised to discover that very few rejoiced with me that I had discovered my life’s true calling. Some ridiculed my experience. Many friends abandoned me as I abandoned the life plans that had bound us together. Even those in the church who I trusted for guidance and support seemed to throw obstacles in my way: doubts and questions I was ill-equipped to answer.

It took many years for me to candidate for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament: years in which I tried my best to live up to my calling at church, at work, at home; years in which I felt that I was giving my all but it was not good enough; years in which I grew more and more frustrated with a God who would stir up such things in my heart yet not make a way for me to use the gifts that I had been given for this particular purpose.

Yet when the way finally opened up through the non-itinerant, non-stipendiary category, there was no pat on the back; no “well done my good and faithful servant;” simply hard truths about my own limitations, about the imperfection and discomfort of what it is to be community; and, ultimately, about the true cost of discipleship.

Over the past seven years, I have had to wrestle with God and with myself.

I have listened to how my family would be butchered in front of me if I did not learn my place as a white, female minister in training. I have been afraid to close my eyes and pray after a colleague was knifed during a service I was leading by one that we had been called to serve and to love. I have grieved at the non-itinerant category being closed and felt with some of the soul friends with whom I have journeyed for so long that the church suddenly does not want the unique gifts that we have offered. I have worried about how my family are connecting with God in the diverse and different communities in which we have worshipped and served.

But today I thank God.

I thank God that as we have wrestled, God has never let go of me. I thank God for the people who have accompanied and supported and tested and taught me. I thank God for the countless moments of love and laughter and and intimacy and self-offering that have presented themselves as I have served and been served within this Methodist family. I thank God for the hundreds of babies I have held in my arms at their baptism and see now walking into Sunday School class for the first time. I thank God for the table at which we are all equal in our need of God’s grace.

But above all, I thank God for those things that have touched me in a way that has caused pain for a while but opened up new ways of being and seeing and loving.

It has been in those moments that God has shown me that obedience to God’s call is actually an invitation into intimacy with the One who made me by hand, and not the expectation of a distant and demanding God.

It has been in those moments that I have learned to be a servant and not to try and be a Saviour. God’s got that covered already!

It has been in those moments that I have experienced the liberating power of forgiveness and the full extent of people’s desperation that inspires me to love, love, LOVE; even when that love leaves me vulnerable.

It has been in those moments that I have discovered that our greatest differences from one other can indeed be our greatest gifts to each other.

It has been in those moments that I have learned to dance …
… and to let God lead.

And so, today as I whole-heartedly proclaim that I am grateful for the community of the church (as imperfect as she can be) and confident of God’s continued calling and constant presence in my life, I can only echo the words of Charles Wesley with all my heart:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus and all in Him is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown, through Christ, my own!

 

Connected

That God gives us community as a means of a grace, as the context in which we work out our faith, is, at times, a wondrous gift; at others, a bizarre and even cruel joke.

Community, in its messiness, its transience, its unreliability, its apathy, and its cliques, can sometimes be the least likely place for us to be open to the loving, moving presence of God.

And yet, our knowledge and experience of grace and faith are as intimately connected to community as we, in Christ, are connected to one another.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all others.  Romans 12:4-5 (NIV)

O Creator of all things,
Weaver of the subtle connections that bind each one to another,
Maker of past, present and future,
Giver of dreams:

Help me to see the grand design.
Open my eyes to the ties that bind –
me to another,
another to You,
You to me.

And in these connections,
let me discern 
the beat of Your heart,
the call of Your voice,
the movement of Your Spirit
across endless galaxies
and throughout the very fabric of time.

In these connections,
help me to see that I am never alone
and give me a glimpse of the powerful mystery
of One God, yet three Persons,
who are united completely
in love, in purpose, in power.

In these connections,
may I be found and refined,
for the ties that bind me to brother and sister
are the ties that bring me meaning and growth.

Lord, open my eyes to the connections
and help me to see myself reflected
in the eyes of the other looking back at me.
Help me to be open to their care and to their concerns,
to their honesty and to their mystery,
to their giftings and to their need for grace,
to their life stories and to their love.

Help me to be a part of Your body.