Easter letter

To my fellow pilgrims with whom I travel to the cross of Christ 

A few years ago I was preaching at an early morning service on the practice of prayer. I talked for a bit about the formal prayers which we learn in our childhood and the handy prayer acronyms that well-meaning Sunday School teachers and youth leaders have passed down through the generations to “beginner” Christians.

Then, I stepped out from behind the pulpit, walked right up to the front row and offered the unsophisticated thought that prayer is simply coming before God as we are – and being open to God doing the same. 

That was the first moment that I took my shoes off in front of a congregation. I’m still not sure how it happened exactly. I hadn’t planned to do so. I didn’t even register that I had done it until I spotted a colleague doubled over in laughter, trying to take photos of my feet. But that is my most natural state of being: barefoot, in the garden, like a child who is unafraid and unashamed to walk with her holy and loving and life-giving God.

Over the past seven weeks we have been walking the long and dusty road to Jerusalem. Like Jesus who had travelled that way many times before in both his childhood and his ministry, we revisit the familiar ground of our faith:
~ the palm-strewn streets of Jerusalem,
~ the pounded earthen floor of the upper room upon which Jesus knelt to wash his disciples’ feet, 
~ the green of the olive grove in which he prayed in such agony of spirit and received the kiss of betrayal,
~ the cold stone of Pilate’s court which resounded with the hateful cries of “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
~ the torturous hill upon which he stumbled under the weight of the cross,
~ the dark and dreary road of grief and despair that the women walked as his lifeless body was taken from Calvary and laid in a borrowed tomb,
~ and, then, the rough path that flies by beneath our feet as we run breathlessly to see for ourselves the truth – that he’s not where he’s supposed to be! He is risen!!

I hope that as we have travelled together, we have not found ourselves just going through the motions, listening to the same old story in the same old way, revisiting ground so familiar after 10- 20- 50 years that it fails to move us …

… but, that as we are given, again, this remarkable glimpse into who God is and how much God loves us, we are able to
     kick off the shoes that confine us, 
wash away the grime that has gathered,
             receive the assurance that we are forgiven,
escape from our own narrow expectations,
and walk, and dance, and run, and laugh, and dare, and dream
with the God who defeats death that we might come to life.

Over the next 50 days, as we move from Easter to Pentecost, may we come before God as we are and be open to God doing the same, knowing that such a holy encounter will not leave us unchanged.  

Yours, in Christ,

Palm Sunday letter

To my fellow pilgrims in this week of passion and palms

Last weekend, I had the joy of attending the Kids’ Camp Out in Narrandera. Many of the children there have never set foot in a church before. Many did not know the Easter story which we can probably tell off by heart. Many of them have seldom heard how good and beautiful and loved they truly are. 

As they encountered the elements of worship, gospel, and fellowship in this carefully-prepared, child-friendly setting I noticed two distinct responses: for some, the words seemed to make little sense and they fidgeted and found excuses to leave the room; for others, it was as if a light had been turned on inside of them and they glowed with curiosity and delight and wonder as they invited Jesus into their lives. 

As I write this letter and engage with this week’s account of Jesus entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (Luke 19:28-40), I see in the crowd those same faces: those who are uncomfortable with what is happening in front of them and who demand of Jesus that he make it stop, and those who raise their hearts and voices to cry “Hosanna! Lord, save us!”

What strikes me particularly about this passage is that – in this case and in many places in the Gospels – those who seem the most uncomfortable with God’s saving grace are the deeply religious people who know off by heart the history of humanity’s disobedience and God’s faithful intervention in generation after generation. Yet, those who know best the Scripture’s promises of a Messiah who would set the world to rights want to put a stop to the people praising and praying that Jesus will save them because 1) he is not what they expected and 2) they have no control over what he says or does.

But maybe, just maybe, there’s another reason for their discomfort. Maybe, despite being able to read and recite all those words which spoke of God’s love for the world and longing to be in relationship with each and every one of us, the words never really made sense to them. Maybe, just maybe, they had heard so many times over so many years that they were so dumb or stupid or ugly or mean or weak or bad or worthless that they could not believe the words of God or make sense of what was happening right in front of them. 

Can you?

Can you make sense of the fact that for YOU Christ came into the world, was crucified, died and was buried, and rose again? 

Can you make sense of the fact that for the liar, gossip, murderer, backstabber, paedophile, adulterer, wife-beater, unbeliever, <insert whatever label makes you most uncomfortable> Christ came to do the exact same thing with the exact same heart of love?

As we mark the beginning of this significant week in which we remember and retell the familiar Passion story, perhaps Palm Sunday invites us to reflect on the condition of our faith and our relationship with the God who loves us. Perhaps it challenges us to consider which face (or voice) we are offering to the world for which Christ came. And, perhaps, it offers us the opportunity to reach out to those who have never heard how good and beautiful and loved they truly are, knowing that they might make a hasty excuse to get away from us but hoping that a light may be turned on inside of them by the Light that shines in us. 

Yours, in Christ,

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,