“I am with you”

But the Lord says, ‘Zerubbabel, be brave. Also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, be brave. And all you people who live in the land, be brave,’ says the Lord. ‘Work, because I am with you,’ says the Lord All-Powerful.
Haggai 2:4

Without God at the centre of our lives, we are merely going through the motions of being alive: nothing is good enough; nothing truly satisfies; nothing is of lasting significance.

Yet it seems to fly in the face of human reason and instinct to stop scratching for survival in order to first establish God’s place and trust that all else will unfold in place. There seems to be within us some unspoken yet commonly-held belief that we must work, and then God will reward and bless us; yet in springing into self-centred, self-determined action we deprive ourselves of the blessing of God’s presence in every choice, in every action.

Can it be that we are keeping ourselves in places of drought and scarcity by not comprehending fully the wealth and extravagance of God’s simple promise: “I am with you?”

“I am with you,” links us to thousands of generations of people brought through wilderness and barrenness, exile and slavery through God’s presence and activity so that we can know with certainty what God makes possible.

“I am with you,” gives us the courage to face all that the day may bring – despite our fears and hesitation – in the knowledge that when we are weak, God is strong.

“I am with you,” harnesses all of the power and creativity of God in our work, connecting us with vision and energy and purpose.

“I am with you,” invites us to a present experience of the future promise of the full glory of God’s reign and peace: heaven on earth, here and now.

May you know this day, the immense blessing of the Lord All-Powerful, the God of Angel Armies, with YOU.

 

 

 

 

A liturgy of gratitude for God’s good gifts

It is the start of our Rhona season – also known as Thanksgiving – a time in which we deliberately count the blessings in our lives and respond to God’s generosity with our own gifts of time, money, and talents. The liturgy below focuses specifically on the blessings of life and health, and gratitude as a spiritual posture through which we can become more aware of these gifts and expressive of our thankfulness. Congregational responses are indicated in italics and the hymn/song suggestions are in red.

***

Welcoming the Light:
Blessed be You, Giver of all good things,
Bringer of Light and Love,
and Life eternal,
for giving us this new day,
to be like no other,
this unique moment
like none before.

MHB 34 “Immortal, invisible”

Praising the Gift-giver:
Our Alpha and Omega,
Beginning and End,
and holder of every moment in between –
whether joyous or tinged with sadness;
Your generosity ripples throughout the Universe,
Your gifts like stars across the blackening sky –
too numerous to count though we can name a few.

Praise be to You, for giving of Yourself
in word and work as You shape the world around us.
Praise be to You, for giving of Yourself
in the humility and hope of Immanuel, God-with us.
Praise be to You, for giving of Yourself
in the delightful surprises that await us this day.
Praise be to You, for giving of Yourself
in the breath of Spirit with and within us.

Shine, Jesus, shine

Recalling our blessedness:
1 Corinthians 9:6 “Remember this: The farmer who plants a few seeds will have a very small harvest. But the farmer who plants because he has received God’s blessings will receive a harvest of God’s blessings in return.”

A time of testimony to God’s blessings separated by a simple chorus such as “Thank you Jesus/Siyabonga”

Praying for gratitude*:
Gift-giving God, fill us with gratitude this day:
Gratitude of heart that I might see the gifts of another.
Gratitude of mouth that I might sing their praises.
Gratitude of spirit that I might recognise the blessings You have brought me.
Gratitude of humour as I perceive the playfulness of Your giving.
Gratitude of eyes that I might deeply draw on the wonders of Your created world and know my part in its family.
Gratitude of open hands for all that You will place in them this day.
Gratitude of memory for my story which you have covered with tenderness and mercy.
Gratitude of feet for every step I take this day is a gift.

One or two more repetitions of “Thank you Jesus/Siyabonga”

Receiving God’s Word:
Luke 17:11-19 (The Message):

It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”

They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”

Sermon title “Attitudes of Gratitude”:

  1. The greatest enemy of gratitude is entitlement.
  2. True gratitude always finds expression.
  3. Gratitude is a gift for transformation.

Receiving God’s grace:
Come to the table of mercy

What abundance lies before us!
What generosity!
Gifts of the earth that remind us of how deeply we are cherished,
and how costly was the price of God’s love for us.

As we break this bread we remember how Christ took a loaf and tore it,
just as his body was broken that we might be whole.
God of grace, we are grateful for this gift.

As we share this cup we remember how Christ blessed and poured it,
just as his blood was poured out for the forgiveness of our sins.
God of grace, we are grateful for this gift.

And so as we take, and eat, and drink, and remember,
may our lives be open to the healing and the saving works of Your grace,
And by the power of Your Spirit with and within
may we become instruments of Your generosity.
Amen.

Communion is shared.

Responding in faith:
MHB 400 “Take my life”

O God for whom and to whom we are eternally grateful,
accept these gifts
as symbols of our love
and tokens of our thankfulness
for our life and health and many other blessings.

As our lives have been touched by Your good gifts,
May others be touched by ours.
In Jesus name, we pray.
Amen.

Sharing the blessings:
Hymns&Psalms 776: Make me a channel of Your peace

May the generosity of God
continue to delight and surprise you;
to find you in the unlooked for places,
and to transform your way of looking:

May you see the gift of a hand held out hopefully;
God’s invitation in the eyes of a stranger;
and your own abundance in the place of scarcity and want.
Amen.

* Prayer of gratitude taken from Tess Ward’s “Celtic Wheel of the Year

Christ in control

A Meditation on Colossians 1:15-20 for Cosmos Sunday

Imagine for a moment that you have bucket-loads of money and not only the car of your dreams in your driveway but also an expert driver to go along with it – an ex-formula 1 champion with an impeccable safety record and an intimate knowledge of how to get the very best performance out of your car.

For the first few weeks, as he drives you from place to place all goes smoothly: he gets you to the office and home in record time, and it’s an absolute pleasure to see the expertise with which he takes the gaps and rounds the corners.  You settle in, get comfortable – complacent even – and eventually take to reading your newspaper in the back seat.

One day, however, you glance up to find that you’re miles outside the city limits.

“What on earth are you doing?  Where DO you think you’re going?” you explode.

“I don’t think that you’re living up to your full potential,” the driver responds.  “Just trust me – the place I’m taking you to will be much better for you in terms of your health, your happiness, and your family life.”

I think that very few of us would simply sit back and surrender, putting our complete trust and faith in this relative stranger knowing precisely what is best for us.  We’d more likely yell for him to stop the car, fire him, and resume control of the driver’s seat.

Now this is the very experience that we are afraid of when we choose to be Christians; when we put Christ in control of our lives.  It’s alright when we see the blessings pouring in and like the direction in which our lives are moving – then we happily sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.  But when we take an unexpected turn, or when it looks like he’s going to take us to the dodgy side of town, we snatch for that steering wheel and shout, “I think I’ll take it from here buddy!”

The reason for that is that when we ask God to be in control of our lives we don’t suddenly become new creatures devoid of history or habits.  We have dreams still; imagined lives full of what we hope for.  We have pasts that have shaped us, parents who have passed down their high (or low) expectations of us, aspects of our personalities that define us and influence our choices – and it often feels like those things are at war with what God is calling us to and with what God commands us to do.

The cosmos invites us to consider our choice, to question whether Christ is worthy of being in control.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians responds with a resounding, “Of course he is!”

He is the image of the invisible God – the epitome of love, defender of the weak, worker of miracles; one who gives generously of himself so that we can know forgiveness and freedom.

He is the firstborn over all creation – the one from whom light and life flows; the one who speaks and brings into being beauty and order and purpose.

By him and for him all things were created – even the powers and authorities of this world for whom he groans when they use their power and position to use and abuse and tear down and oppress.

He holds all things together – from the stars and moons and planets of our ever-expanding universe, to people of different tribes and languages, to families broken by the death of a loved one, to the unnatural gaps in the world like the divide between the rich and the poor.  He reminds us that we are all interconnected.

He is the head of the body, the Church.  He is the one from whom we take our example and our lead; the one who teaches us how to live; the one who gives us our mission and our meaning; the one who holds together our different gifts, our different passions, our different dreams.

He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead – a God of unimaginable power and possibility; the one who can break every bond that imprisons us, who can resurrect every area of our lives in which we have given up hope, who can open up opportunities for new ways of being and thinking and doing.

The fullness of God dwells in him that he may open our eyes to the fullness of life – to the rest and restoration of gentle rivers and green pastures, to the pressing and cleansing presence of his Spirit in our woundedness, to his comfort in the valleys so dark and full of shadows that we fear we will be lost in them forever.

He is the one who shed his blood on the cross that all things might be reconciled to him who with dying, tortured breath declared, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

This is who Jesus is.

And the cosmos asks us whether we think that one such as this is worthy of being in control of our lives.

The reality of human experience is that we have others in control of us from our very first breath – parents, teachers, friends, older or younger siblings, bosses, wives.  Very rarely do we feel that we are in control.  And very rarely are those who have influence and control over us anywhere near as worthy as Jesus.  So it’s hard to trust, to hand over.

But the car analogy is not actually a good one for in the passage from Colossians we see a Christ who is Supreme but who doesn’t take over.  He accompanies, he journeys with, he holds together, he connects.

He is more of a co-driver than a chauffeur: the navigator of a rally car team who tells the driver what lies ahead, where to turn, what obstacles to look out for.  He is hands-on – often performing maintenance on the car during road sections.  There is an incredible level of trust and frequent, open, clear communication between the two.  There is a bond, a comradeship, a sharing of direction and responsibility – and this is what the Christ who is with and in and through all is inviting us to.

I pray that your heart leaps with all of creation in crying out, “Oh Lord, you are worthy!”

 

In the beginning

A Message for Confirmands based on John 1 and Genesis 1: 15 September 2013

In the beginning …

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.

In the beginning …

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

In the beginning …

Our God is a God of beginnings.  God is present at every start.

God is there at the moment of conception as two cells come together and merge and divide miraculously into fingers and toes and a beating heart and a mass of grey matter that has potential beyond our imagination and understanding and, even within the womb, a personality that sets each child apart and makes them as unique and special.

God is there at the first moment of independence – the first breath, the first inhalation of life, of Spirit; the first exhalation; the first cry; the first angry shout; the first word; the first step; the first fall.

God is there at the inauguration of our work: the first time we help mom in the kitchen, the first time we take responsibility for a pet, the first time we put on our school uniform, the first test we write a test, the first job we have, the first time we change our mind about what we want to do with our lives, the first time we dream about the mark we want to leave on the world.

God is there at the blast off of love – the first time that someone catches our eye and takes our breath away and becomes the center of our thinking, our being, our doing.  God is there at the first stuttered conversation, the first date, the first kiss, the first beak-up, the first heart ache, the first faint rustling of hope that this is something we should try again.

And God was there the first time that we met together as confirmands.  Some came shyly, some reluctantly, some because their parents insisted that they attend; some because they didn’t want to sit on their own at Children’s Church, some because they saw a gathering of similarly-aged young people and were curious; some because confirmation was the next part of their spiritual journey that they deliberately wanted to go through.

Yet why they came was actually unimportant.  As were their differences in terms of age and personality and levels of maturity and experience of church and understanding of this faith we call Christianity.

What is important is that God was there – in the beginning.

No.

That’s not quite right.

God was there before the beginning.  When things were formless and empty and dark, even then God was there and God said, “Let there be light” and there was light.  And there was Life – in the beginning.

We sometimes forget that because life is not always good or kind or enjoyable.  Sometimes it is scary and messy and incomprehensible and utterly beyond our control.  Sometimes – through our own choices – or through the choices of others, life subjects us to unbearable suffering, excruciating pain, heart-breaking disappointment.  Sometimes it is merely the boredom and the dullness of our daily routine that eats slowly away at our passion, our vision, our courage.  Sometimes we don’t know which way is up, or which road to choose in the multitude of forks that lie ahead of us.

Yet God is there.

In every moment, in every sense, in  every memory, in every thing that sustains life, God is there.

Like the many to whom John refers in his Gospel we do not see that.  Though God is in our lives; though our lives were made through God, we don’t recognize God in every moment: both good and bad; the times of smooth sailing and the encounters with stormy waters.

Yet God has been with us since the beginning.

No – since before the beginning God has been active and moving and present; in you and in me.

As our leadership listened to the testimonies of the confirmands yesterday that is the word that they shared: God is there.  As we have gathered as church, as guild, as community it is a word we experience: God is here.  As our young people have made vows today they have asked, “God walk with me from this day forward” in the faith that God has been with them since the beginning.

And to those who receive Him, to those who believe in His name, God gives the right to be children of God.

To our confirmands this morning I want to say that this is, indeed, just another beginning – a start into what it means to be a child of God.  It is an adventure into discovering your uniqueness, your belovedness, your part beyond this community and within the whole of God’s creation.  You are never alone, never unseen, never unimportant for you are made and named by God and utterly precious in the eyes of God.  God is there – in the moments that spark light and life and energy and passion and in the moments that seem empty and formless and dark.

God is there.  And we, your very extended family, are here too – to nurture and encourage and support you; to point you to the signs of life and light in the moments of darkness; to reflect God’s glory; and to be to you a place in which you can experience God’s grace and truth.

To those of us who are in need of such encouragement and support, who have lost our first love for God, who have wandered away from the paths that lead to life, let me remind you: our God is a God of beginnings and you can begin anew with God in this moment, on this day.