Lenten Letters

To my fellow pilgrims in this season of Lent

Last Sunday, I was delighted to be part of a warm and wonderful time of worship that was centred around a vision of being “all-in” with God who, through the humble birth and painful death of Christ, has certainly demonstrated that God is “all-in” with us.

In John 12:1-8 this week, we see that idea come to life in the picture of Mary kneeling before Jesus – her Teacher, her Saviour, her Friend – in humble adoration. As she looks upon feet that have walked the length and breadth of her world and that will soon be wounded for love’s sake, she, in an extravagant and unselfconscious act, removes the stopper from an alabaster jar and anoints them with a fragrant treasure, wiping his feet with her hair.

Judas recoils with horror at the waste. 

He’s not upset about her blatant disregard for rabbinic law which allowed for only a few drops of inexpensive oil to perfume the water used for foot-washing by a really caring and hospitable host. Neither is he referring to the waste of what was probably her only inheritance and the economic implications that such an act would have on her future security as an unmarried woman. He is really bemoaning a lost opportunity to “give money to the poor” while lining his own pocket.

I recoil too. Not at the waste, but at the intimacy and humiliation implicit in her act. At the thought of spending time on my knees on a hard floor. At the idea of touching someone else’s calloused feet. At the image of my freshly-washed-every-morning hair clumped together in oil, wet with my tears. At imagining all of those men standing, watching, gaping in judgment over me.

Being a decent-enough disciple is not terribly difficult. Especially when we can use the priorities of God’s kingdom to advance our own agenda, reinforce our opinions of others through “God’s words”, satisfy our needs for belonging and affirmation, and create our own little piece of heaven here on earth for others who know how to behave appropriately in our space. 

But being “all-in” with God in the way that Mary was in that moment of pure and unashamed devotion – well, that just makes me uncomfortable. How about you?

***

Fast forward a few weeks in your imagination to the well known stories that we will again hear over Holy week and Easter:
~ of Judas whose love for money and whose own ideas of what the Messiah should do leads him to betray Christ with a kiss, to regret his choice, and to hang himself in sorrow;
~ of Mary whose love for Jesus leads her to the foot of the cross; a witness of his death and then, after taking a similar vial of perfume to his tombstone to tend to his body, of his resurrection.

This week in Lent, I invite us to sit with these two characters and the discomfort that each of them may bring us as we consider what it might cost us to be “all-in” with God – and what it might cost us if we aren’t. And, in our discomfort, may we encounter God’s unconditional, extravagant love which accompanies and sustains us in the searching and the questioning, the wondering and the wrestling. For God is “all-in” with us regardless of whether or not we’re quite there yet.

Yours, in Christ,

Yvonne 

Lenten letters

To my fellow pilgrims in this season of Lent

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

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

Uniting in Worship

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

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

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

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

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

The invitation of this week in Lent is threefold:

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

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

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne 

Lenten letters

To my fellow pilgrims in this season of Lent

Last Sunday was a wonderful celebration of Christian calling as I led a commissioning service for new elders in Tumbarumba in the morning and was then inducted as the minister of the Southern Region in Henty in the afternoon. There was a beautiful symmetry to the day which reminded me of how vital and necessary every single part of the Body really is.

Thank you to all who were present, and to the many others who have offered their support, prayers, encouragement, and friendship to my family and I in recent weeks. 

Thank you, especially, to all within the Church of Christ who have listened for and responded to the leading of the Spirit in their lives, who have made sacrifices and put their self-interests aside to serve others, who have acted as agents of healing and reconciliation and justice in our community, and who – in various big and little ways – hold the sacred mystery of God before us in our mission, our decision-making, and our worship. 

Leading where God calls is not always an easy task. It can be humbling, confusing, frustrating, uncomfortable, and even positively unrewarding at times! 

Sometimes, we might encounter what seem to be obstacles in our way or stumbling blocks to our vision, only to find that they were actually route markers along an unimagined journey – places where God came very close to us and we were able to come very close to God.

Sometimes, we may feel vulnerable or unsafe opening up to or standing in front of others – like “spiritual flashers” to borrow a term from a friend – and risking criticism for what we are doing and how we are doing it from people who seem unwilling to do anything but throw stones.

Sometimes, our passion and urgency might chafe against the processes and the structures of the church that seem slow and unwieldy but can actually offer us the space to follow our thoughts home, hone our gifts, deepen our conversations, and build authentic, supportive relationships that honour our mutual gifting and collective discernment.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it”

Luke 13:34a

As I read Christ’s words this week concerning Jerusalem, I am struck yet again by his humility and trust in the Father as he walks towards the city of Jerusalem knowing what awaited him there. It fills me with wonder that he is still full of love and longing to gather up the people like a mother who hen covers her chicks with her wings – even though they will soon mock, betray, deny and crucify him.

As we journey towards the cross, together, I hope that we will:

  • have the courage to explore and/or continue on the journey to which God has called us;
  • take a moment to affirm and encourage those who are exercising their gifts for the benefit of the Body;
  • and pray for the same love and longing of Christ to see his people welcomed, embraced, and protected in this place.

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne 

Into the deep

Peter’s story – Luke 5:1-11

They say that the definition of insanity is doing exactly the same thing in the same way and expecting a different result. But what was I to do? When the stranger stepped into my boat and demanded that I push off from the shore I thought that at least I could make a little coin after a long night of catching nothing.

You see I’m a fisherman by trade. As is my father. As was his father before him. I come from a long line of fishermen who have lived by the tides and, sometimes, died through the fickleness of the sky and stormy sea. 

Over the years our business has grown. Each night, my brother Andrew and I take out our boat with some hired men to fish for tilapia and carp and sardines which we dry for sale or export as fish sauce through the Mediterranean. The Romans just can’t get enough of it! Which is about the only upside to their occupation of this holy land, I think. 

Often, the sons of Zebedee – James and John – accompany us. We like to think there’s safety in numbers but out on the sea when a squall suddenly blows in, no one is safe really. That’s why, each evening, before we head out some of the help cooks a light supper over a fire on the shore while we carefully check; first, the nets so that nothing will escape them through some small hole; then the boats so that no lives will be lost through some small carelessness. 

We take our time. The boats are 8 metres long and 2.5 metres wide and we run our hands over every inch of oak and cedar that stands between us and the deep deep sea.

This night was no different. We chatted as we worked getting hundreds of feet of netting stowed away tightly, wondering how much we would catch, wagering which boat would net the biggest haul, bickering cheerfully over which direction to head out in as the sun began to set.

But the laughter faltered as the hours passed and, time and time again, we muscled the long nets into and out of the water. Time and time again, we pulled them in empty, rowed a way aways, and tried again. 

The silence deepened with the darkness until I wondered how long a night could last. How many times could I move and sweat and hope and guess in the vast emptiness? 

The sun’s first light was not a blessing but signalled, at least, an end. Yet the faces around me were grim with the knowledge that there was nothing to take back home for breakfast, not this day – and maybe not tomorrow nor the day after that. Because business can’t be good when you have nothing to offer.

James and John reached home first. They were already rinsing their nets when we pulled up beside them. I thought to myself, “They look so worn out; so weary.” 

That’s when I noticed them – a large crowd, loud and lively. Their energy and joy rubbed salt into the wound of our emptiness and despair. And that’s when the stranger stepped in. Uninvited. “Someone famous?” I wondered, as he spoke to me about using my boat for a bit to teach from.

As he spoke to my friends and neighbours – for I knew many of the faces transfixed by his words – I felt some of my tiredness ease, some of my anxiety settle. He spoke of a kingdom not like any kingdom I had ever heard of, or dreamed of, where sorrow and suffering was replaced by God’s shalom shining upon everyone. 

And I started to think “It’s really quite nice being out here with him – on the water under open sky and the warmth of the sun for a change, instead of in the dark working and waiting and hoping and praying for a good catch and a safe return and a fair price at the market.”

But just as I start getting comfortable, he turns to me and orders “Launch out into the deep.”

The men grumble. They remember that they’re tired. They just want to go home and get some sleep. So do I, really, but he promises a great catch and I want to see if he’s for real. So I agree. 

We row, we cast, we pull. But the nets don’t move. Backs strain; a few curses fly. I wonder if they’ve gotten caught on something – here in the deep and unfamiliar waters to which he guided us.

And then, a gleam of silver; no! a silver stream – never-ending – shining in the sunlight. We pull and we pull but the nets are so heavy we can’t get them in ourselves.

“John!” I shout. “Over here James!” Andrew exclaims – and our partners rush to join us. Soon our boat is full of fish. And so is theirs! There’s no room to work, to sit, to put the nets without us sinking. 

That’s two tonnes of fish! A month’s wage!! Never had we caught so much … never all at once. It’s impossible. A miracle. A promise fulfilled just as this man Jesus had said. 

I can’t help it. I fall to my knees with astonishment. Who is he that speaks with such authority of what will be? And why would he choose to get into my boat, into my life; to lead me into the deep, to this place of unimaginable blessing? I am full of wonder and shame and the awkward realisation that I am just a sinner unworthy to enter his kingdom, a fisherman unfit to be in the presence of such greatness.

Yet that is all he asks me to be: a fisher of men. 

“Come follow me,” he invites us. “Just as you are. And I will make you into so much more than you have imagined. If you have courage to launch out into the deep, to leave behind you the ordinary and the everyday of what you have known, to do the same thing in a different way, you will find a purpose and a power to your life that you thought impossible.”

And so Jesus comes into our lives today.

While we are doing the routine work of cooking or cleaning or tidying up, he comes.
While we’re earning our living, he comes.
While the very life we seek is slipping through our fingers, he comes.
When we’ve tried our best and have nothing to show for it, he comes.
When we’re tired and frustrated and ready to give up, he comes.
When the night seems long and the day doesn’t bring relief, he comes.

And every time, he comes, he calls with the invitation:
“Thrust out into the deep.”

Sometimes, we resent him for it feels less like a request, and more like an order. Sometimes, we’re slow to respond because we just want to rest for a while. Sometimes, we doubt that he has the power to keep his promises. Sometimes, we don’t even hear him because we’re too caught up in the push and the press and the noise of the crowd. Sometimes, we’re afraid to leave behind what we know, what we’ve accomplished, what we’re comfortable with. Sometimes, we stubbornly demanded that we be blessed before we bless another.

But each day, light dawns. 
And Christ shows up on the shore.
And he knows where we’ve come from 
and he meets us where we’re at
and he climbs into the midst of our circumstances
and he points to the deep unknown
where the miracle waits
and the growth
and the promise
and the glorious liberty that awaits each child of God 

who chooses not to be
desk bound,
root bound,
earth bound,
bound by sin,
bound by shame,
bound by fear.

Into the deep …
a deeper awareness of the world,
of our neighbour,
of the stranger struggling through life’s storm …
of who God is – to us, to them – 
of who and where and how God calls us to be …

Into the deep …a deeper experience of God’s kingdom coming closer,
of mystery and possibility,
of freedom and grace, 
of the transformation that takes place – not through planning or dreaming or willpower – but through the Spirit of God with and within us.  

Into the deep …
will you follow?

Day Twenty: Heroes

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
2 Samuel 6:12-19
Hebrews 1:5-14

One of the questions that I’ve most enjoyed asking young people – both within church and school settings – over the years is to identify their heroes. The answers always follow the same pattern:
a few joking proclamations of “I’m Batman” or Wonderwoman or even Spongebob Squarepants (often accompanied by the theme song which gets stuck in my head for days);
followed by the names of a few famous people like Beyonce or Tyra Banks (or anyone who has recently won Idols);
followed by a few “right-sounding” answers – Mother Teresa, Ghandi, Maya Angelou –
and then there’s an awkward silence and a shifting in the seats until some brave soul blurts out,
“my mom,”
“my gran,”
“my best friend,”

followed by a long and breathless explanation as to why someone so ordinary counts as a hero ….

And suddenly everyone has a name to offer, a story to tell, about an every-day, ordinary, real-life hero whose faith or love or sacrifice or integrity or perseverance in the face of unbelievable adversity has inspired them and made a permanent impression on that young person’s life.

King David was a great hero to Ethan the Ezrahite, and, indeed, to the whole nation of Israel.

Psalm 89 is a song of remembrance:
of his special calling and anointing,
his prowess in battle,
his servant heart,
his close walk with God;
of the glory days of the kingdom
which should have endured forever in accordance with God’s promises –
‘I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations’ (verse 4).

Yet we know of at least one person who most certainly was not a fan: Michal, the daughter of Saul who “despised him in her heart” as she witnessed his triumphant entry into Jerusalem with the ark of the covenant, leaping and dancing before the Lord in a linen ephod (2 Samuel 6:14-16).

The reason for her contempt – besides the obvious hatred for the man who had succeeded her father – was this symbolic act of exchanging his kingly garments for a dress worn even by the young servants of a priest’s family; an undignified declaration that though he was Israel’s anointed king, he was one of the people and a simple servant of God.

In a similar fashion, Christ, in clothing himself in fragile human form, reveals that he is one of us and a servant of the Father.

Yet, as God brings his firstborn into the world, he proclaims that even the angels must worship him:
for his throne will last forever
and he will rule with fairness;
when the earth and skies he once fashioned are worn out,
still he will remain –
the same –
in his love of good and his loathing of evil
(Hebrews 1:5-14).

The reason why heroes are so important is that they inspire us to become heroes ourselves. They influence our values, set us goals to aspire to, and – in the way that they have transformed the world for us – invite us to consider how we will transform the world for others.

As we move ever closer to Christmas and welcome the firstborn of the Father into the world, I wonder what his example teaches us to aspire to.

Today, reflect on the role models and heroes that have been present in your life. 

Give thanks to God for their example and influence.

Consider how you may be a hero of the faith in the coming year. 

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 ….

 

Of this I am sure

*a reflection based on Ecclesiastes 12 and John 12:44-50*

I want you to think for a moment of something you’re sure of; something you know deep down inside to be absolutely infallible, 100% certain and true.

Perhaps you want to share it with your neighbour or your friend ….

If you don’t, or if you hesitated for a moment, I wonder why. Did you suddenly think that your sure thing was too silly? Or did panic and doubt flare up in you briefly the moment that I asked you to express it rather than just think it that it might not actually be 100% true? Were you worried that it might begin a debate or elicit an opinion contrary to your own?

Perhaps your sure thing was a scientific fact, like the earth is round or the grass is green. But while the world may look like a perfect circle from space, it is more accurately a bumpy sphere; and I don’t know about yours, but my grass is looking decidedly brown beneath the sun’s recent unrelenting heat.

Perhaps you’re certain that butter is bad for you, but these days the processed trans fats found in margarine are regarded as far worse and coconut oil is the in thing for the health conscious. And here’s three cheers to chocolate and caffeine now being linked to increased longevity but you’ve only really got until the next sponsored nutritional study to enjoy that “fact”.

Perhaps your conviction lies among more spiritual lines: in the wonderful assurance of God’s eternal love for you; yet, if you have ever questioned that unconditional love for a pimp; a paedophile; a person from a different race, religion or sexual orientation, then you’ve inadvertently opened yourself up to an uncomfortable little niggle of worry that perhaps there are limitations on God’s welcoming embrace – even for you.

As the season of Advent approaches, our lectionary readings offer a profound word to us in this post-modern era of shifting certainties, fake news, and relative truth; of – as the Quester puts it throughout the book of Ecclesiastes – the insubstantial, swirling smoke that clouds our vision of what is truly important and trustworthy.

It’s all smoke, nothing but smoke.
The Quester says that everything’s smoke.
~ Ecclesiastes 12:8 (The Message)

The fun, the freedom, the exuberance of our youth quickly fades beneath the burdens and worries of adult responsibility. Between bills to be paid, houses to be maintained, children to be raised, the best years seem to fly by until we’re left tired yet unable to sleep; up with the birds yet unable to hear clearly the sweet songs they’re singing; with an abundance of free time to do the things we’d once dreamed of doing, yet unable to come and go as we will as physical limitations and fear of the rapidly-changing world take over.

Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over.
Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends.
The body is put back in the same ground it came from.
The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it.
~ Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 (The Message)

Yet the Quester, as he laments the meaninglessness of life, the futility of our toil, and the fickleness of pleasure so dramatically, does not want us to throw our hands up in despair and wonder if there’s even a point to getting ourselves out of bed tomorrow.

I remember quite clearly telling my husband in the early years of our marriage that I fully intended to take a handful of sleeping pills or fall elegantly off a rooftop just after my fiftieth birthday because I didn’t want to experience any of the frailties or the illnesses or the losses that I associated with old age at the time, and I didn’t think God would mind too much getting me back early. Now that I’m in my forties and have been touched by the dignity, the memory, the wisdom, the authentic love of those significantly older than myself, I’m all too eager to revise my position on the matter ….

… because life – lovely while it lasts – is too soon over.
Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends.

As he offers these words, the Quester longs to rouse us from our apathy so that we remember the remarkable gift of each new day and honour the One who has given it. He wants to shake us free of the smoke that has suffocated our passion, our vigour, our vision – those people, those “priorities,” those possessions that have actually just filled our lives with clutter and kept us from pursuing the precious and important. He wants to goad us to become people of substance in a world that has lost its way in its pursuit of power, prosperity and pleasure. He wants us to live well.

And of this I am sure: that Christ came into the world to make that good life, life real and eternal, possible for all people.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says of himself:

I am Light that has come into the world so that all who believe in me won’t have to stay any longer in the dark.
~ John 12:46 (The Message)

“Won’t have to,” “should not,” “would not continue to,” “shall not remain …” different Bible versions put it in different ways: that through his love and sacrifice, Christ has enabled us to live differently; through his teaching and actions, Jesus has made possible an alternative way of being in relationship with God and with one another and with the world at large.

But ultimately – and this is another thing I’m sure of – the choice is ours: to live and work and love and play and pray in the light of God’s all-encompassing, liberating love; or to stick to the shadows with which we have been acquainted for so long that we don’t even see them; or even, happily hide within when we begin to speak or think or act in a way that we know falls far short of the measure of God’s love for us and for the Other that we may be judging, deceiving, manipulating, disrespecting, or betraying at the time.

We don’t have to stay any longer in the dark. We don’t have to chase the fleeting, insubstantial smoke of this world of which the Quester so passionately warns us. We don’t have to ….

Yet if we choose to be children of the Light, to honour and make the most of each short day, here’s a sure thing to hold onto in the midst of the uncertainties and distractions of life – the last and final word, the conclusion of the matter, as the Quester puts it:

Fear God.
Do what he tells you.
~ Ecclesiastes 12:13b (The Message)

Jesus says it too, right before his final Passover Feast:

I know that his command leads to eternal life.
~ John 12:50a (NIV)

Fearing God is not about being afraid; it’s not the dread of a sinner or a slave.

It’s the reverence that we have as children for a Father who has consistently and unconditionally demonstrated love for us.

It’s the certainty that our respected Teacher has our best interests at heart that gives us, as lifelong students, the courage to try and to obey.

It’s the wide-eyed wonder at how giving and forgiving our Gracious God has been that inspires us to be giving and forgiving ourselves.

It’s the awe that brings order to our day – replacing appointments in diaries or tasks on to-do lists with opportunities to encounter God’s grace.

It’s the sacrifice of  worship that we offer, unrushed by the work of the kingdom and unhindered by the lack of workers for the harvest, but flowing from the deep desire to connect and reconnect with the Spirit who sustains each breath.

It’s the very real wrestling with how hard it is to be people of substance when others get to do whatever they desire – without judging them or resenting them or pitying them.

***

In his concluding chapter, the Quester writes that:

The words of the wise prod us to live well.
They’re like nails hammered home, holding life together.
They are given by God, the One Shepherd.
~ Ecclesiastes 12:11 (The Message)

I pray that his wise words might prod us to live well, and that today, these three nails have been hammered home:

  1. That Christ came that all might enter into life real and eternal.
  2. That it is ultimately our choice to live in His light or give in to the smoke and the shadows.
  3. That living in His light begins by honouring and enjoying the One who first breathed life into us and to whom our spirit will return.

Life is precious. But it is also fleeting. May we make the most of every moment all the way to our eternal rest and may the Christ who is the same today as he was yesterday and will be forever, keep us standing sure-footed through the trials and temptations of life; and, as we walk in the certain love of God the Father, and the clear leading of his Holy Spirit, may others come to know through our words and deeds the assurance of Christ with them, always.

Amen.

Come. Drink. Flow.

A reflection for Pentecost. Based on John 7:37-39

There is a story* told by the rabbis of old of a great and harsh desert which people were hesitant to cross because of its scorching heat and shifting sands. In the midst of the barren and dangerous wilderness was a well so deep that you couldn’t even see down to the water within it so people had forgotten what it was and what it was there for.

One day, a man who had to cross the white sands came across it and stopped to wonder at its presence and its purpose. And, as he wondered, he noticed a rusty, cup-shaped object half-buried nearby and a half-a-dozen golden strands scattered around around the strange structure.

While hundreds of others had passed by in too much of a hurry over the years, this man took the time to examine each new discovery, and to wonder whether they fit together and if they could somehow help reach the damp coolness that he could feel coming off from the inside of the sturdy stones.

After a long while of pondering and playing, he settled on tying all of the strands together and the big cup with a handle to one end.

Cautiously, he lowered it into the pit and, just as he reached the very end of his makeshift rope, he heard a strange sound and felt the weight of the bucket – for that’s what the rusty object was – shift.

So he heaved and he heaved and, finally, hauled out a bucket full of the purest, clearest water. And as he drank deeply, he was changed – along with his whole view of the desert world around him.

Now the story actually has two endings. In the first, the man set off on his way again, leaving the bucket and the many strands tied together so that the next person could easily reach and taste the transforming water. In the second, before heading off he carefully untied the golden strands and scattered them again so that the next person to come across the well would have the experience of figuring out the puzzle and finding the treasure of the deep well for themselves.

I wonder which ending you think best.

 

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus finds himself in a dangerous place: the Jewish leaders already hate him and are plotting to kill hm, his disciples are pressuring him to be more of a public figure than he wants to be, and the people are whispering about whether he is a good man or simply a great liar.

Yet, as he stands on the temple courts on the last day of the great festival of Tabernacles, he extends this gracious, grace-filled invitation to them all:

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

We all need to hear this invitation on this day of Pentecost for we are living in dangerous times; in a dry and barren place cunningly camouflaged as a welcoming oasis by the luxuries of air-conditioning and uber-eats and internet shopping and thousands of uplifting, motivational messages sent straight to our inbox or Facebook stream.

Even as we advance technologically and acquire more and more stuff to give substance and a vague sense of purpose to our pretty mediocre, mundane lives, we lose the capacity for silence and wonder, for compassion and justice, for unconditional and all-encompassing love.

Like the man in the desert who took time to pick up and put together all of the scattered pieces and gain the refreshing, transforming waters of the deep well, we need to mull over and take time with Jesus’ words to us today if we long to live beyond the shallowness and superficiality of this day and age.

 

In an inhospitable, suspicious world of high fences, diverted faces, and people always on the GO-GO-GO, Jesus’ first word to us is one of intimacy. COME!

“Come” is the eternal invitation to “approach,” “advance,” “draw near.”

“Come” is the starting point of a conversation, a friendship, a journey, an adventure.

“Come” reminds us of the open arms of God and God’s continual desire to be with us …

… even when we are broken, disobedient, angry, fearful, empty, questioning, thirsty.

The first step towards deeper, Spirit-filled living lies in drowning out all of the noise, the pressure, the demands, and taking a deliberate step closer to God.

“Come.”

 

But drawing near to God is just the beginning for the next word comes as a command: DRINK!

Imagine for a moment that you are out at a friend’s house, sitting comfortably together when she asks you if she can get you anything. Immediately, you reply, “Actually, I am quite thirsty. I would love a glass of water!”

She returns a few minutes later with a cup of cool, clear water in her hands which she holds out to you but you simply sit there and stare with your own arms crossed. Will your thirst be quenched by looking at the glass?

Of course not!

It requires you to reach back, receive, and deliberately drink deeply of what is on offer.

How many times do we come to God and feel like we are leaving empty-handed, with unanswered prayer, because we’ve actually been holding on too tightly to things that distract and destroy us? How often do we make time to draw near God in worship and walk away feeling irritated or unfed because our constant internal critique of the worship team, the sermon, how we were greeted – or not welcomed – at the door has kept us from hearing the word that God intended?

“Drink.” Jesus commands.

“Take hold of the grace, the love, the wisdom, the peace, the healing, the guidance, the strength that you find in my presence and make it part of you.”

Once again, the act is deliberate. “Drinking” requires attention and intention – not to mention a good dose of humility for reaching out and taking hold is an expression of something we lack, of something we need.

 

But when we drink deeply of the Spirit of God, when we take the grace we have received into our minds, our hearts, our homes, our communities, something amazing happens: we are changed in a way that changes the world.

Jesus’ final word to us in today’s reading is a promise: “living water will flow from within them.” FLOW!

Many years ago, we purchased a home with an annoying dripping tap next to our patio. The constant trickle of water stained the bricks black with algae that Darren (my husband) had to scrape off every few weeks. He tried brute strength to force the tap closed. He even replaced the rubber stopper but still the water drip-drip-dripped.

Eventually, at my mom’s suggestion, we placed an old cast iron bath tub beneath it; filled it with soil, and planted Louisiana irises which flourished from the constant trickle that had once irritated us so.

Now I’m not suggesting that we, as Christians, become irritating drips to others, but I am wondering: if a trickle of water can bring a bathtub of soil and bulbs into an abundance of life and beauty, what can the free flowing waters of God’s Spirit accomplish? If the unexpected treasure of a deep well in the midst of the desert can change the way a man sees the world and make him consider the legacy he wants to leave for others, how does the Spirit within us open up new ways of looking and loving and living?

“Come. Drink,” Jesus says, “And the Spirit will flow.”

We need to be intentional about the first two words, then God will take over and open the floodgates for there is an everlasting abundance of Spirit to be shared.

Why, then, do we keep trying to tighten the taps? Why do we so often hoard and hold into the grace we have received as if there is not enough to go around?

Raised in the desert world as we are, we learn lies from an early age like, “I’ve earned this,” or “people like that are not worthy,” or “I won’t give them a hand because they’ll take the whole arm.” These moral judgments, entitlements, inadequacies all act like dams in the river of God’s Spirit, interrupting the flow.

 

This Pentecost may we receive the word of invitation and come to God as we are – deliberately drawing near.

May we hear the command and drink deeply of the grace on offer from the One who loves us most and knows exactly what we need in this present moment.

And may we trust the words of promise and break down the barriers in our hearts which keep the Spirit from flowing in a way that brings beauty and life to others.

***

* This story has been draw from the Godly play lesson entitled “The Parable of the Deep Well.”

 

Good Shepherd Sunday

*A traditional service based on lectionary readings for Easter 4 – Psalm 23,
John 10:1-10, Acts 2:42-47, and 1 Peter 2:19-25*

Hymn Suggestions:

  • Crown him with many crowns
  • Amazing grace
  • When I survey the wondrous cross
  • Jesus! The name high over all
  • How great Thou art!
  • The Lord’s my shepherd

 

Choir Introit

Call to worship: Psalm 100 (NLT)

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!

He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.

His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

Hymn

Prayers of praise and confession

O King of Love,
our suffering servant
who carried our sins to the cross
that we might be free of them;
who suffered the blows of nail and hammer, whip and thorn
that we might be whole;
who sought us out when we had no idea
who we were or where we were going
that we might be kept for good by the guardian of our souls …

… thank You
for the life that You make possible:

(men) a life full of Your goodness and unfailing love;
(women) a life unimpeded by want;
(men) a life permeated by peace and plenty;
(women) a life undefeated by struggle, fear, or loss;
(men) a life blessed in spite of those who seek to pull us down or see us fail;
(women) a life unbounded by earthly laws of death and dis-ease.

*silence*

Forgive us, Generating Father,
for reducing the fullness of life in You and with You
to dreams of success and prosperity,
a promotion at work,
a particular car.

Forgive us, Guiding Shepherd,
for forsaking the right paths
which bring honor to Your name
for the fast track
to our desires and ambitions.

Forgive us, Gift-giving Spirit,
for allowing so many thieves and things
to rob us of the energy, the resources, the time
that You’ve entrusted to each one of us.

Forgive us, Gathering God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
for neglecting the neighbor who needs help,
the enemy who needs grace,
and the unbeliever who needs the Good News
proclaimed and lived out by Your people in this place.

*silence*

This day, as we hear Your gentle voice inviting us by name,
may we enter wholeheartedly into the kind of life You lived
and the very life You gave
that we might live with You forever and ever.

Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer 

Welcome and notices

Scripture reading: John 10:1-10 (The Message)

Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”

Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

Hymn

 

Sermon suggestion: A Burglar-proof Life/Thieves and Robbers

The Good Shepherd promises a life that is full, that is abundant but we have mistaken the blessings of a life lived in God’s presence with physical trappings of wealth or success. Sometimes the very search to acquire such things is what lands us in the deepest, darkest valley wondering why God has abandoned us. And sometimes we help the very things which seek to steal, to kill, to destroy our peace, our righteousness, our passion, our belovedness etc. get in over the fence. Reclaiming the “feast” of life requires not only following the Shepherd who knows us and who calls us by name, but also becoming aware of and guarding against the very day enemies that seek to put us on another path. 

Hymn  

Holy Communion

The peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.

*the peace is shared*

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Blessing and honour, glory and power,
are rightly Yours, all gracious God who,
from the beginning, created us for a life of plenty, of abundance.

When we wandered off on our way,
forsaking the vastness of Your green meadows,
rejecting the peaceful streams and quiet places,
relying on our strength rather than Your perfect provision,
we found ourselves in the darkest valley
and cried out to You for comfort and protection.

So you sent to us a Saviour
who lived our life
and died our death upon the cross –
a Shepherd who would guide us back
to the wide open spaces of Your grace.

Therefore, with the universe that You have created,
the company of heaven,
and brothers and sisters who gather throughout the world
in Your loving name, we proclaim:

Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of Your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

As the first Christians gathered together,
broke bread,
and ate with glad and generous hearts,
so we come to Your table,
and we remember
how, at supper with Your friends,
You took bread, gave thanks, broke it and said:
“This is my body, broken for you.
Eat in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after supper,
You took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying,
“This is my blood, poured out for you and for everyone.
Drink in remembrance of me.”

Dying, You destroyed our death.
Rising, You restored our life.
Lord Jesus, come in glory.

So send Your Holy Spirit upon these gifts of bread and wine
that we might truly feast with joy and gladness.
Keep us from the things that would rob us of our passion and our purpose.
Anoint the wounds that still worry us.
Speak peace into the closed doors of our homes and our hearts.
And make us ever mindful of the invitation to walk within Your goodness and Your unfailing love
all the days of our lives.
Amen.

*Holy Communion is shared*

Offertory 

Offertory and intercessory prayers

Closing hymn

Benediction 

May God, who led our Great Shepherd up and alive from the dead
to make all things whole,
put us together and provide us with everything we need
to bring glory and pleasure
to the One who creates, redeems, and sustains our lives –
always and forever.
Amen.

Choir Out

Last lessons: Discomfort

*Tennebrae/Thursday in Holy Week: John 13:1-17,31b-35*

 

“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Verse 14

Oh Lord who honoured the sacred tradition of Passover,
and, in your last days, planted seeds of an eternal legacy within your disciples,
~ searching hearts,
~ imparting truth ,
~ reframing customs,

the floor is hard beneath my knees,
cold, uncomfortable, discomfiting

but not quite as disconcerting
as the state of my brother’s feet:
the road weary-roughness sandpapers against my soft hands;
the jagged hangnail on his right big toe a pain to us both
as I look away embarrassed,
afraid to touch.

Why would you put me in this place,
in this lowly position?
What lesson on love can I learn from the dirt, the dust
that clings to him?
And how do you expect this moment of awkwardness
to enrich our fellowship?

Tonight, as I follow in your footsteps
through the Garden of Gethsemane
to the cross on Golgotha’s hill –
keep me uncomfortable …
… unsettled …
… disturbed …
… and deeply connected to those who make the journey with me.