Easter 5 letter

To my fellow pilgrims on the path of resurrection life 

Last Saturday, mom and I spent a lovely afternoon at Tambea Kitchen and Garden learning a little more about gardening in Australia – and, more specifically, in Wagga’s difficult climate. (I won’t go into detail about the caramelised pear and ginger cake that we also enjoyed over afternoon tea but it definitely deserves a mention).  One idea that the presenter kept coming back to, however, was the importance of thinking about your entrance – whether you live on a farm, in a cottage, in the suburbs, and even in a flat. Your entrance not only makes a first and lasting impression, but it also tells people something about who you are and lets them know where you want them to go and what door you would like them to enter in by. 

Alongside Janice’s joy-filled induction service and the celebration of Mother’s Day (which becomes a little more awkward each year for many preachers due to our deepening awareness of who might feel left out or even be hurt by their memories), the myriad pictures of bold and creative entrances that we were shown has had me thinking a lot about how we extend God’s welcome to our community: 

~ what do our entrances say about us?
~ how do people know where to go?
~ does our welcome encourage them to enter through the door of our church and the Door of Life?

As we continue to journey with the book of Acts and the stories of the church coming to life in this season of Eastertide, we encounter the apostle Peter freshly returned from Joppa where many had come to profess faith in the resurrected Christ. His greeting by the believers in Jerusalem is not quite what we might expect:

“The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’”  Acts 11:1-2

And so Peter explains: 

~ his vision of God making what he considered impure clean,
~ the timely invitation to Caesarea,
~ and how he witnessed the gift of God’s Spirit to the Gentiles.

THEN the disciples rejoice at how God is opening up the way, expanding the kingdom to include those that they had not judged worthy! 

As Revelation 21:1-6 reminds us today: God is moving into the neighbourhood. Heaven, in Christ, is coming to earth. And the Church exists as a sign of this Truth.

As God makes God’s dwelling place with all people, I wonder how we can offer a cheerful entrance and a warm welcome rather than the unspoken 

“This venue reserves the right
to refuse admission to any person”

which shows on so many faces when the unexpected and “unwanted” show up. 

This week, may we be particularly aware of the opportunities to extend God’s welcome to friend and neighbour and stranger.

Yours in Christ
Yvonne 

Easter 4 letter

 To my fellow pilgrims on the path of resurrection life 

This week sees a wonderful celebration of women with:
~ the story of Dorcas, the dressmaker, as one of our lectionary readings in this time of Eastertide,
~ the induction of Reverend Janice McWhinney at Wesley on Saturday morning,
~ and, of course, affirming and praying for the treasures that we name “Mother” in our family and community.

These moments are of special significance to me as a mother, daughter, sister, sister-in-law, and woman in ministry for – despite gradual and intentional changes – the language and power hierarchies within human relationships are still very much masculine.

Imagine what it must have been like to be a woman in Dorcas’s time! 

Yet, in a patriarchal world and an emerging church led exclusively by a cadre of male disciples, Dorcas sews together far more than pretty garments:

  • Within her home, she drew together members of both the Jewish and Greek communities – note her two names – in a radical act of inclusion. 
  • Through her charitable acts, she helped those who had a little to offer to recognise their ties to the most vulnerable and poor within the city of Joppa – not by putting money in a plate but by making by hand something that would provide warmth and care for those in need. 
  • In the public square she wove into the understanding of Christian discipleship the colours of gentleness, compassion, and the desire to repair the world.  

William Willimon notes:

“When the story of the rising of Dorcas is told by the church, the social system of paralysis and death is rendered null and void. The church comes out and speaks the evangelical and prophetic ‘Rise!’ and nothing is ever quite the same.”

As we tell the story this week of a woman who brought the rising of hope to the vulnerable, alienated, oppressed cast-offs of her community; a new minister who will share in the work of repairing the world in this place; and the women who have carried us in their wombs – and their hearts, may we hear again the invitation to “Come to life!” and rise in the name of
~ our Labouring God who held us in the hidden depths of God’s own heart before bringing us into being,
~ our Accompanying God who draws near day after day with outstretched hand to walk and talk and work with us,
~ and our Affirming God who declares the goodness of each Word-birthed, Spirit-breathed man and woman.

And may God bless in this time of remembrance and celebration every woman who is and was and will be a living expression of God’s labouring, affirming, accompanying nature. 

Infuse them with Your wisdom,
encircle them with Your love,
empower them with Your presence,
that they may know in the very depths of their being,
their beauty and belovedness.
Amen. 

Yours in Christ
Yvonne 

Easter 3 letter

To my fellow pilgrims on the path of resurrection life

Last Sunday we had a wonderful opportunity to reflect on some of the values that make us a congregation within the Uniting Church of Australia:
~ the centrality of Christ, our Living Word, 
~ our inclusivity and radical hospitality, 
~ a strong sense of justice, 
~ shared authority and responsibility for ministry etc.

As people told stories about where they come from I was struck by the remarkable diversity of experiences gathered around our one little table, even though we had all once called ourselves “Methodists.” I was also surprised by the longing that arose within me for some of the songs, rituals, and people that had been a significant part of my faith journey – particularly in my youth. But, above all, I was deeply aware of the fact that the values that we were talking about sometimes represented who we are becoming (or striving to become) more than who we actually are.

When we speak of ourselves as a pilgrim people on the way to the promised end, we are acknowledging that we aren’t there yet: not in the eternal rest of heaven, and not even close to the fellowship of reconciliation that lives out God’s love for the common good of all God’s creation.

We confess that there are many in our midst who know that they belong, but there are still some who we hesitate to welcome unconditionally into the family of God.

We confess that there are people with whom we serve and worship who make our eyes roll and our nostrils flare and our blood boil and our ears close and our hearts harden.

We confess that for every issue that we are passionate about because we have experienced it first-hand or have a close friend or family member who has, there are a dozen causes that we don’t have the energy or the resources or even the desire to attend to.

We confess that we often mistake authority for power, seasons for traditions, gifts for possessions, domination for leadership, our plans for God’s will.

Yet we also confess that it is Christ alone who comes, addresses, and deals with us in and through the news of his completed work in such a way that 

~ the guilty are acquitted, 

~ life is given to the dead,

~ and new things are brought into being which, without him, could otherwise not exist.
(Paragraph 4, Basis of Union, paraphrased)

Just look at Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). This is probably the most remarkable story of transformation recorded in Scripture as a fervent, almost fanatical persecutor of the Christians fleeing Jerusalem to escape a painful death becomes a just-as-fervent preacher of the Gospel, missionary to the Gentiles, and teacher on what Jesus’s resurrection-life means for the early Church. And all because he encountered Jesus along the way!

As we receive in each week of Eastertide the deepening invitation to “Come to life,” may the light of Christ shine brightly on our way and open up new possibilities for us!

Yours in Christ
Yvonne

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 

Eastertide: Come to Life

Excerpts from Eastertide for lay preachers and worship leaders.

The word “Easter” brings many things to mind from the “Hosannas!” of Palm Sunday, to toasted hot cross buns and colourful eggs, to the more sombre cross of Christ and the Tenebrae services in which we recognise the deepening darkness, to a time of rest and renewal as we enjoy holidays with family and friends.

As the world around us changes colour from orange and gold to the red, white and blue of Anzac Day, to the bleak grey of winter, within the Church we move through Scripture –
from the cross to the empty tomb,
to Christ’s ascension into heaven,
to that wonderful celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the first disciples.

Often in this time, we hear stories of Jesus’s post-resurrection encounters with his disciples: how doubting Thomas received the proof he needed to believe, how Peter’s threefold denial was transformed into a call to care for Christ’s sheep, how those on the road to Emmaus felt their hearts burning with hope.

In the space between, something new – unknown – is happening:
the Church is coming 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 reconciling 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. 

In this year’s lectionary readings I have been struck by the real people who show us what real faith looks like as their lives are touched by resurrection news. 

Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Peter, Saul who becomes Paul, Lydia, and Dorcas are all changed from the inside out as they encounter the power of the resurrected Jesus. Their faith, their transformation, their testimony is vital to others coming “to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

There are two elements that I particularly appreciate about this lectionary cycle:

  1. Its portrayal of our clear need for Christ and the change that occurs when we are truly open to an encounter with the Living Lord: Thomas who stubbornly refuses to believe what he has not seen is sought out like a little lost sheep; Saul is converted through an encounter with God on the road to Damascus; Dorcas is brought back from the dead; Peter receives a vision that transforms his relationship with the Gentiles; Lydia and her household are baptised after the Lord opens her heart and ears to the Good News; and Paul and Silas are miraculously freed from prison.
  2. The inclusion of women who played an often-overlooked part in the growth of the early church: Dorcas (or Tabitha) who was well known for her devotion to caring for the vulnerable, and Lydia who was also know to be a worshipper of God and generously offered the hospitality of her home to Paul on his travels. I love that their stories are told against the backdrop of cloth – the garments that Dorcas was making for the poor and the purple fabric for the rich in which Lydia dealt – and have a picture in my head of the Gospel weaving together people of different genders, socioeconomic status, ethnicity etc.  

Real people.

Real faith.

As Christ comes to life, the Church is born. And as we come to Christ, so too do we come to Life – full and free and eternal. This is the message that transforms us and the witness we have to bear. Eastertide is a good time for us to remember!

A call to come to 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!