Hallelujah love

The texts for this week focus on the salvation love of God – to which we respond with hearts and minds and voices: HALLELUJAH! They are:

  • Psalm 146
  • Ruth 1:1-18
  • Mark 12:28-34
  • Hebrews 9:11-14

Chloe Axford at engageworship has a wonderful reflection on the meaning of the word “Hallelujah” as well as some creative ideas for the call to worship which can be found at https://engageworship.org/ideas/hallelujah-reflection.

A gathering prayer (based on Psalm 146)

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Lord God Almighty,
we gather together this day to praise You
from the depths of our innermost being,
for You are our hope and our help.

You are the Creator of heaven’s glory,
earth’s grandeur, and ocean’s greatness:
through sky and soil and sea You settle us
into this salvation life
which knows no end –
even when our bodies return to dust
and our plans and projects are over.

Unlike all our experts and politicians and distinguished leaders
who fail and fall,
You alone keep all Your promises
and we claim them now –
O Jacob’s Jehovah,
great Zion’s God:

justice for the oppressed (hallelujah),
food for the hungry ((hallelujah),
freedom for the prisoner ((hallelujah),
sight for the blind ((hallelujah),
restoration for the sinner (hallelujah),
protection for the immigrant and the stranger (hallelujah),
support for all left defenceless in their grief (hallelujah).

 Lord, You will reign forever:
You are God for good!
So receive the hallelujahs of our hearts:
some joyful
some broken,
some searching,
some hoping
but all gathered together in Your anthem of love.

Amen.

Prayer of confession (following the Ruth reading)

The world teaches us many ways to love, but most are based on selfish desires and the fulfilment of our own needs. Seldom are we prepared to make the sacrifice of Ruth, of Christ, and to bind our lives to another, lovingly, completely, unconditionally. And so, this day, we make our confession:

It is painful to confess, O Loving God, how hard it is to love
as You have demonstrated through Your own sacrifice and self-giving. 

We long for love;
we pray for love;
we sometimes even beg for love
or lie to secure and hold onto love. 

Yet, in our own offering of love,
there is often a hardness of heart,
a brokenness, a poverty
that speaks of past hurts and disappointments;
of an aching chasm between what we need and long for
and what we have received, endured, put up with.

Still, You call us to give expression of our love for You
in the way in which we love our neighbour,
forgive the brother or sister who has wronged us,
and embrace the stranger.

As we sit in the silence and savour Your Love with and within us,
we say sorry for the inadequacies of our own ….

<silence is kept>  

Here then the Good News (based on Hebrews 9:11-14):

Christ alone has made our salvation secure, forever.

Jesus has offered himself as the perfect sacrifice that now frees us from our dead works and our hard hearts to worship and serve the living God.
Hallelujah!

May his love for us cleanse our consciences,
heal our wounds,
and help us to love others as God loves us:
compassionately and completely.

In Jesus’ name we pray.
Amen.

<the peace may be shared>

Prayers for the world – I wrote a letter to my love 

In response to the meditation, the congregation is invited to write a love letter to someone who is suffering: the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoner the blind, the sinner, the immigrant or the stranger, someone left defenceless in their grief that were mentioned in our gathering prayer. 

For some, these will be people known by name; for others, it may be a person or group of people that they have encountered through the news or social media or church bulletin. Each letter should be a prayer for them in their current circumstances and an expression of our love and care.

After a few minutes of prayerful writing/drawing, the congregation sings “make me a channel of Your peace” – or similar – as they come up to the altar and “drop” their letters into a bowl or heart shaped container symbolising the love of God.

Words of mission

In God’s Kingdom, all are loved for who they are.
Hallelujah!
Welcomed, loved, healed, forgiven  –
we are not far from God’s kingdom.

And now, as we are sent forth,
God’s kingdom is not far from those
who are longing and hoping and searching for love.
Hallelujah!

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.

In the deserted place: Proper 13

A communion liturgy for the 8th Sunday after Trinity Sunday, based on the lectionary readings:

Eugene Peterson, in his book, Under the Unpredictable Plant, writes of the necessary practice of askesis: a deliberate “exercise” or “discipline” of breaking with the ordinary routines of life in order to experience powerful growth in our personhood and perspective.

Often this experience is involuntary; the sudden intrusion of disaster or tragedy into our lives. And yet, when we look back at the experience, we are amazed at the deepening of our faith, our resilience, our love in such times. He writes,

We are familiar with the frequently beneficial consequences of involuntary askesis. How many times have we heard as we have visited a parishioner in the days following a heart attack, “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me—I’ll never be the same again. It woke me up to the reality of my life, to God, to what is important.” Suddenly instead of mindlessly and compulsively pursuing an abstraction—success, or money, or happiness— the person is reduced to what is actually there, to the immediately personal—family, geography, body—and begins to live freshly in love and appreciation.

Through Sunday’s stories of Jacob wrestling with God in the dead of night and of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand out in the country comes the rare opportunity to create an intentional journey of askesis in our communal worship; a necessary break in the vibrant, upbeat mood that we are so often driven towards in our consumer-culture; an hour of quieter contemplation which culminates in meeting God face to face in the deserted place.

Music and prayer should flow gently, rhythmically interspersed with periods of silence or instrumental songs (suggested spaces for a hymn/chorus/silence are indicated in the order below by asterisks). Congregants should feel free to sit, stand, or kneel as they are comfortable throughout the service. Crafted congregational responses are limited, with pauses throughout the prayers providing opportunity for individual reflection and conversation with God.

Entering the deserted place

From time to time, our Lord Jesus Christ would retreat –
withdraw into the wilderness,
the deserted place –
to meet face to face
with his Father
in prayer and solitude.

Lord, listen to our prayers
as we seek you in the quiet place.

Search our hearts and surprise us
with answers full of truth and grace.

***

Wrestling in the deserted place – Genesis 32:22-32

The Old Testament reading is read one or more times as congregants are encouraged to find themselves in the story, face to face with God. 

A time of reflective prayer follows with brief pauses indicated by ellipses and longer pauses for personal prayer between paragraphs:

Lord, take hold of us.
Get a good grip.
Wrestler-strong, don’t let go;
~ though we may struggle,
~ though we may protest,
~ though we may cry out for mercy.

Hold us in the desolate place …
in the damp darkness
of our desires …
of our doubts …
of our disbelief ….

Constrain us though it may open old wounds
as we confront head on the pain of our past
and the agonies of our present …
our shortcomings …
our failures …
our broken relationships …
our family feuds …

our jealousies and resentments …
our insecurities and disappointments …
our unsatisfied yearnings …
our unanswered prayers …

our illnesses …
our losses …
our lonely longing to be loved just as we are ….

<As a candle is lit>

And as a new day dawns,
may we cling to you stubbornly still,
until we are altered …
until we are re-named …
until we have claimed the blessing that you long to bestow ….

***

Receiving in the deserted place: Matthew 14:13-21

This portion of the service can incorporate the Gospel reading and sermon/meditation, culminating in the communion liturgy as a symbolic expression of our sharing in the feeding of the five thousand and, more largely, in the covenant of grace. The sombre tone of the service begins to shift as we become aware of what the Psalmist (17:16) refers to as the satisfaction of beholding the likeness of God.

The Lord is here.
His Spirit is with us.
He has heard our honest prayers.
He knows our hearts,
our fears,
our needs.

Like the crowd upon the seashore,
we have followed him on foot,
to meet with him in the deserted place,
for teaching,
for healing,
for feeding.

The same Lord who prepared a feast for the five thousand with five loaves and two fish, welcomes us and invites us to his table.

<the table is set, in silence, or with singing >

We give thanks to our Creator for these gifts of earth: this bread, this wine which binds us into a new covenant, a new beginning, a new family.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, God!

We give thanks to our Saviour, who washes our hearts clean by his love, for breaking bread even with those disciples who he knew would betray and deny.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, God!

We give thanks to the Spirit for leading us out of places of darkness and desolation into the wide-open spaces of God’s loving-kindness and grace.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, God!

And so, with gratitude, we recall how Jesus, at supper with his friends, took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying:
“This is my body, broken for you. Eat in remembrance of me.”
Broken for me, broken for you;
Christ’s body was broken for us.

In the same way, at the end of the meal, he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he shared it among them saying:
“This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Drink in remembrance of me.”
Poured out for me, poured out for you;
Christ’s blood was poured out for us.

As we eat of this bread and remember,
as we drink of this cup and recall, O Lord,
your compassionate healing,
your patient teaching,
your generous feeding,
we pray that through the power of your Spirit,
we might be united, nourished, strengthened, encouraged
and made whole.
Amen.

<the elements are shared among the body>

Transforming the deserted place

In the final portion of the service, opportunity is given for the community to take responsibility for transforming the desolate, deserted places in our world. A period of extemporary prayer is encouraged; the offertory (responsive giving) takes place, and the closing hymn/song and benediction speaks of our continued sharing of Christ’s shalom.

Offertory prayer
When you fed the five thousand Lord, you started with a few loaves and fish
and not only did everyone eat their fill, but there were even leftovers.
We offer these gifts today as an expression of our gratitude
for the love and the care with which you fill our lives.
But we also offer them in faith that through them you can do miracles
and transform the deserted place into one of blessing and abundance.
Amen.

***

Benediction (based on the reading from Romans)

Gracious God, we have everything going for us –
family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises,
to say nothing of Christ with and within us.
As we have received,
teach us to give;

As we have been blessed,
inspire us to bless;
As we have been loved,
move us to love.

Amen.

***

 

 

Suggestions for Celebrating Women

On the 9th of August in South Africa we remember more than 20 000 South African women of all races who, in 1956, marched peacefully to the Union Buildings in protest against the tyranny of apartheid – many with children upon their backs.

Celebrating their nobility, bravery and solidarity becomes a profound moment of acknowledging the feminine image of God who creates and nurtures and transforms, of affirming the part that each woman plays in God’s unfolding salvation story, and praying for those who bring us into life – often in the most difficult of circumstances.

Below are some Scripture suggestions and prayers written specifically for a service that longs to emphasise the power and place of women – God’s beautiful beloved.

Call to Worship – Psalm 131 – God, our mother
Lord, my heart is not proud;
I don’t look down on others.
I don’t do great things,
and I can’t do miracles.

But I am calm and quiet,
like a baby with its mother.
I am at peace, like a baby with its mother.

People of Israel, put your hope in the Lord
now and forever.

Prayers of praise, presence and confession
O labouring God who held us in the hidden depths of your heart’s longing and mind’s wild imagining before bringing forth into being the wondrous beauty of earth and sky and sea,
we put our hope in you – now and forever. 

O affirming God who declares the goodness of each Word-birthed, Spirit-breathed creation, and the nobility of each man and woman that you make from scratch in your image
we put our hope in you – now and forever. 

O accompanying God who draws near day after day and moment after moment with outstretched hand to walk and talk, to laugh and dance, to work and play with those you have uniquely named your “beautiful beloved,”
we put our hope in you – now and forever.

O embracing God who demonstrates the length and breadth and height and depth of your great love through the self-offering and sacrifice of your own son –
a far cry from our stubbornness and selfishness and superficial ways,
we put our hope in you – now and forever.

O nurturing God who comforts and consoles us when we falter, when we fall, when we fail and guides and strengthens us when we dare and dream and strive,
we put our hope in you – now and forever.

Indeed, O mothering God, we love you
and we long to place ourselves in your arms this day and every day;
to be cradled there as peacefully and securely as a baby with its mother.

Forgive us for the pride, the greed, the fears, and the ambitions
that keep us from your embrace.
Soothe the worries, the wounds, the doubts, and the demands
that intrude upon the sacred quiet of this moment.
Open our eyes to the beauty and the abundance 
of your love, your compassion, your grace.

And bless in this time of remembrance and celebration every woman who has been a living expression of your labouring, affirming, accompanying, embracing and nurturing nature.

<naming> 

In Jesus’ name.

Scripture readings: The Crimson Cord – Rahab’s story
Old Testament – Joshua 2 and 6:22-25
New Testament – Matthew 1:1-6,17

Prayers of intercession
O transforming God who not only shares our story
but has the capacity to change the plot in surprising ways
we pray, this day, for the women that you have named and know –
the women in our family, in our community, our country, and the whole wide world:

for the Hannahs who have given up hope of ever having a child of their own,
and the Hagars who have no safe, welcoming space to call home,
for the Tamars who have known only rape and violation,
and the Leahs who have always felt inadequate and unwanted,
for the Rahabs who sell body and soul to make ends meet,
and the Ruths who leave everything behind them to face an uncertain future,
for the Esthers who gently work for the good of others,
and the Miriams who lead your people in unrestrained worship,
for the Abigails who speak peace into conflict,
and the Deborahs you raise up to speak truth to the tyrant,
for the Marys who long to spend life at your feet,
and the Marthas who are always worrying about what must still be done,
for the Dorcas’s who dedicate their lives to doing good,
and the Lydias who open up their homes in abundant hospitality –

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 their belovedness,
Amen.  

Communion prayer
O life-giving God, as we come to your table, we remember
that we are all sinners, equally in need of your mercy and compassion:
free us from the power of sin and death through your body and your blood.

We remember that no one is unwanted or excluded from your love, nor should be from ours:
Bind us together through your goodwill and your grace.

We remember that through you, our lives are deeply significant and full of surprises:
Lead us into new ways of being through your servanthood and surrender.

We remember that through your generosity we are bound to an eternity beyond our imagination:
Anchor us in your promises and your peace.

In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Benediction
O sustaining God may the perfect peace and power of this moment spill over
into the busyness and the routine of our daily lives
and may we ever seek the warmth and comfort of your all-embracing arms,
now and forever. Amen.

***

~Featured image: Ruth and mother-in-law Naomi by painter Sandy Freckleton Gagon

Affirming servant leaders

This past Sunday we had the opportunity to celebrate and affirm those who offer their gifts in leadership and service of our community. The Scripture readings I had chosen for the occasion were Matthew 3:13-17 (the baptism of Jesus) and John 13:1-17 (Jesus washes the disciples’ feet).

Below are the vows and affirmations written for this special moment:

Minister/worship leader:
We are all God’s children:
made in God’s image,
cleansed by Christ’s blood,
full of God’s Holy Spirit.

We are all called to be servants of this Good News,
and all gifted in order to become a blessing
to one another and the world around us.

This day we celebrate those in our midst who have heard the call
and responded with outstretched hands and open hearts
to serve God within our Calvary community:
in prayer and preaching,
welcoming and praising,
cleaning and cooking,
counselling and healing,
mission and outreaching,
typing and counting,
teaching and leading,
gardening and building,
staffing and saving.

*leaders and servants of the community come forward*

Leaders/servants:
I do not stand before you as a master but a servant.
I do not stand before you to gain but to give.
I do not stand before you out of pride but obedience.
I do not stand before you in my strength but by the power of the Spirit.

Congregation:
We give thanks to God who has named you and saved you.
We give thanks to God who has called you and equipped you.
We give thanks to God who will strengthen and sustain you.
We give thanks to God for the gift that you are.

Leaders/servants:
I stand before you for my gifts are not my own.
I stand before you because of God’s great love.
I stand before you because faith needs to find expression.
I stand before you because I am willing to serve – you and God.

Congregation:
We affirm that your obedience is not without cost.
We affirm that in serving you bring glory and pleasure to God.
We affirm that you are a precious blessing to this Body.
We affirm that in serving you bring joy to us.

Leaders/servants:
I promise to celebrate and share God’s embracing love with the world.
I promise to follow the pattern of Christ who was not afraid of getting his hands dirty.
I promise to seek to grow my gifts through prayer, and study, and training.
I promise to walk closely with God that I might serve you better and love God more.

Congregation:
We promise to partner with you in God’s love and work:
to seek to find our own calling and gifting,
to affirm the things that bring us joy,
to pray for you and love you.

*a time for the laying on of hands by members of the congregation and congregational prayers for those who have offered to serve*

 

 

Epiphany: showing forth God’s secrets

Epiphany is, perhaps, my favourite of the Christian festivals and rituals. Occurring twelve days after Christmas – that is, on the 6th of January – it is a Greek word meaning “showing forth” or “sudden appearance.” Commonly used within the English language to refer to a sudden revelation, it is, for me, about being given a glimpse into the mystery of a God too big to know or truly comprehend who becomes small enough to hold in human arms. There is something incredibly intimate and inviting in that choice; something that necessitates response.

The traditional readings for an Epiphany service are:

  • Isaiah 60:1-6 – the glory of God rises upon people living in hopelessness, in darkness, transforming their circumstances in a way which reveals God’s presence and action within their lives;
  • Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 – the coming King, Christ Jesus, is to be honoured and exalted by the people and the powers of the world, for his reign will be wise and just and peaceful;
  • Ephesians 3:1-12 – the great responsibility of revealing God’s secret plan to grant all people bold and confident access to God’s immeasurable riches is entrusted to God’s prophets and apostles;
  • Matthew 2:1-12 – the wise men travel from the east to worship Jesus and, in the gifts they offer, a glimpse of the baby’s true nature is given: gold, for a king, which will provide for the family as they flee to Egypt from jealous Herod; frankincense used for worship and prayer, a symbol of holiness; and myrrh which was placed within the tombs of someone whose death was important.

The liturgy below is designed to help people experience a bit of the unfamiliar, the unknown. The traditional order of service with a central sermon has been put aside in favour of a reflection in four parts bound together by songs and prayer. The hymn and song selections shown are for  a multicultural community and encompass not only different languages but also different styles of worship.

Part 1: Opening ourselves up to the unknown

As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold;
As with joy they hailed its light,
Leading onward, beaming bright,
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Evermore be led by Thee!

As with joyful steps they sped,
Savior, to Thy lowly bed,
There to bend the knee before
Thee whom heaven and earth adore,
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy-seat!

As they offered gifts most rare
At Thy cradle, rude and bare,
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King!

Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And when earthly things are past.
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright
Need they no created light;
Thou its Light, its Joy, its Crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down.
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!

We say we’ve had an epiphany when the light suddenly goes on; when the unseen or the unfathomable suddenly becomes clear; when we boldly and decisively know what to do in the midst of our situation; when we are struck by a thought or a realisation that we had never had before.

Epiphany is about wise men from the East who saw a new star in the sky
and realised that God’s promises were unfolding right before their eyes.

Epiphany is about the journey that they undertook, boldly, faithfully, without knowing where it would lead them – just that it was important.

Epiphany is about the gifts that they offered – not toys for a baby to play with; but gold, frankincense and myrrh for a King not like other kings.

Epiphany is about the God-given insight into the hidden, horrible motives of those who feel their power threatened by news that signals newness for all under their rule and reign.

Epiphany is about our responsibility as those who come close to God and who God has come close to, to walk with our faces in the sunlight of God’s glory that the secret of God’s all-embracing love may be shared.

Light of the World,
Sun which does not go down,
Bright Mystery, 
give us this day a glimpse of Your glory;
an epiphany of where we fit into Your heart and Your plan.
Amen. 

Sing prayerfully a few times …

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see you
I want to see you.

***

Light of the world
You stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes, let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore You
Hope of a life spent with You

Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
Altogether lovely, altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me

King of all days, oh so highly exalted
You’re glorious in heaven above, yes You are
Humbly You came to this Earth You created
All for love’s sake became poor

Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
Altogether lovely, altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me

***

You are holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy,
Holy, holy, holy
I want to see You.

Part 2: Praising the King who has come

The prophet Isaiah urged the people of Jerusalem to wake up, get up, look up:
“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
    For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
    but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
    mighty kings will come to see your radiance.
“Look and see, for everyone is coming home!
    Your sons are coming from distant lands;
    your little daughters will be carried home.
Your eyes will shine,
    and your heart will thrill with joy,
for merchants from around the world will come to you.
    They will bring you the wealth of many lands.
Vast caravans of camels will converge on you,
    the camels of Midian and Ephah.
The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense
    and will come worshiping the Lord.”

Many of us have shut our eyes to the darkness, hardened our hearts against the hope that the world can be different – that we can be different – for fear of yet another disappointment but Epiphany invites us to open our eyes and lift our faces to the light of Christ with and within us.

Yet the imagery of the coming Messiah is not only the imagery of a suffering servant, but also the imagery of a Mighty Ruler.

For some of us, when we think of kings, we think of yet another power to exploit and oppress us; another ruler to pay unearned homage to; another palace to be built on our sweat and tears; another ego to be pleased and placated. Yet the Christ who comes at Christmas-time is the King of kings, unlike any other king.

For some of us, when we think of Christ as king, a sense of anxiety or stubbornness overtakes us, for while we want a Saviour, a new best friend,
we would prefer to keep God small and manageable within our arms rather than having to contemplate the bowing down, the obedience, the surrender that the majesty of our Sovereign Lord demands.

And so I invite you to take a moment in silence to bring before God any fear, any anxiety, any rebellion within your heart that you may, with freedom and great joy, praise the King who has come.

Lord, Your light has come
Into our darkness,
Into our desire,
Into our despair,
Into our desperation.

In Your light we are made radiant;
through Your love we are gathered home.
You bring peace to Your people,
Justice to the poor,
Judgement tempered with mercy,
Compassion to the weak,
Hope to the children of the needy,
Salvation from oppression and violence. 

You come at unexpected times,

in unexpected ways:
who are we that human hands should hold you,
that unclean lips should tell of God with and within us?
Yet we are precious in Your eyes –
when we bleed, You bleed;
when we die, You die.

We see You this day for who You are –
beautiful and glorious,
mighty and magnificent,
all powerful and ever-compassionate
and we praise You alone,
for You alone are holy and humble and righteous.

A SeShona chorus with English translation in brackets:

Ndiye oga (He is the only one)
Ndiye, Ndiye (He is, He is)
O Ndiye, (He is the only one)
Wakarurama (Who is righteous)

Simudza maoko ako (Raise up your hands)
Urumbidze Mwari (And praise God)
Nekuti ndiye oga (For He is the only one)
Wakarurama (Who is righteous)

***

Hosanna, hosanna,
hosanna in the highest.
Hosanna, hosanna,
hosanna in the highest.
Lord, we lift up Your name,
with our hearts full of praise.
Be exalted, O Lord, our God,
hosanna in the highest.

Glory, glory,
glory to the King of kings.
Glory, glory,
glory to the King of kings.
Lord, we lift up Your name,
with our hearts full of praise.
Be exalted, O Lord, our God,
glory to the King of kings.

Jesus, Jesus,
Jesus is the King of kings.
Jesus, Jesus,
Jesus is the King of kings.
Lord, we lift up Your name,
with our hearts full of praise.
Be exalted, O Lord, our God,
Jesus is the King of kings.

***

A multilingual chorus with English translation in brackets:

Uyahalalela uyahalalela,
Uyahalalela Jesu wa Makgotla
(Glorious, he is glorious, Jesus Lord of hosts)
Mphefumlo wam’ Uyakhudumisa
(My soul worships You)
Uyakhazimula uyakhazimula,
Uyakhazimula Nkosi yama Nkosi
(Glorious, he is glorious, Jesus Lord of hosts)

Moya waka o ea ho rorisa
(My soul worships You)

Part 3: Surrendering to our best life
*A dramatic reading combining Psalm 72:1-7,10-14 and Matthew 2:1-12*

Voice 1: Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea during the time when Herod was king. When Jesus was born, some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem.
Voice 2: They asked, “Where is the baby who was born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

Voice 3: Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
Voice 4: May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
Voice 3: May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
Voice 4: May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
Voice 3: May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
Voice 4: May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
Voice 3: In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
Voice 4: May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

Voice 1: When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, as were all the people in Jerusalem. Herod called a meeting of all the leading priests and teachers of the law and asked them where the Christ would be born. They answered,
Voice 2: “In the town of Bethlehem in Judea. The prophet wrote about this in the Scriptures:
‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are not just an insignificant village in Judah.
A ruler will come from you
    who will be like a shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Voice 3: May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.
Voice 4: For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
Voice 3: He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
Voice 4: From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

Voice 1: Then Herod had a secret meeting with the wise men and learned from them the exact time they first saw the star. He sent the wise men to Bethlehem, saying,
Voice 2: “Look carefully for the child. When you find him, come tell me so I can worship him too.”

*As Voice 1 concludes the story, voices 2, 3 and 4 make their way to the altar and place the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.*

After the wise men heard the king, they left. The star that they had seen in the east went before them until it stopped above the place where the child was. 
When the wise men saw the star, they were filled with joy. They came to the house where the child was and saw him with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their gifts and gave him treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But God warned the wise men in a dream not to go back to Herod, so they returned to their own country by a different way.

***

*a brief reflection is offered*

Epiphany is about God declaring in word and flesh: “See! I am with you! I am here in your midst!”

Often, when we hear the story of the wise men who travelled far from the East following a star, we focus on the remarkable faith required for them to undertake such a journey, or on the preciousness and the rich symbolism of the gifts that they carried with them.

Seldom do we take time to reflect on the profound gift that God offers in this moment of  revelation: the invitation to step out of the ordinary confines of human existence into the extraordinary adventure of a life filled with the power and creativity and movement of God’s presence.

The star in the sky was, indeed, a birth announcement but it was also a catalyst for those who believed in God’s faithfulness, those who trusted in God’s promises, to move beyond the boundaries of the seen and known;of reason, of geography, of budgets, of daily routine into the realm of hope and possibility.

God’s “See! I am with you! I am here in your midst!” invites us to examine whether we living our best possible life. Not a good life. Not a safe life. Not a happy-enough life. Not an at-least-I-know-what-tomorrow-holds life. Not even a I-have-all-I-could-ask-for life. Our best possible life.

A life lived with a deep awareness of our connection to God, to one another, to the world around us, to enemy and to stranger. An open-eyed life in which we look constantly for evidence of God with us, in the familiar and in the unexpected. A life in which we are not bound by rules and routines so much as liberated by Love, to love – in simple acts of kindness as well as extravagant, outrageous, generous gestures. A life in which work is a joy and a reward, and rest is protected and savoured. A life in which our immediate answer is not “No” when we are confronted by the uncomfortable, the unknown, the unplanned for; nor “Yes” to everything that is simply expected from us. A life of seeking and searching, sitting with questions, sharing stories, seeing new perspectives, standing steady on what we know to be true: “See! I am with you! I am here in your midst!”

God’s declaration set the wise men on their journey. Yet for King Herod and all the people in Jerusalem, it caused anxiety and worry, and a stubborn refusal to move from his palace and his power until he knew exactly where the king of the Jews was to be found and what was going on.

Surrendering to the best possible life that God has dreamed of for us often means giving up the security of our good-enough lives. And so I invite you to take a moment to think about God’s promise “See! I am with you! I am here in your midst!” and how you would like to respond at the start of 2016.

*the invitation can be made for people to come to the altar in prayer or to place their offertory gifts on the altar as a symbol of their surrender to their best possible life in and with God*

A SeSotho hymn of dedication with English translation in brackets:
‘Mêlê, pêlo, lê moea, (Body, heart and Soul,)
Botho kaofêla, (my whole being,)
Ke u bêêla tsona, (I am sparing them for you,)
Ke li têlla uêna.(I am saving them for you.)
Bohle (chorus):
Ê, sehlabêlo sa ka (Yes, my offering)
Ke ‘na ka sebele; (It’s me truly;)
Jêsu, Morên’a ka, (Jesus, my Lord,)
U se amohêlê! (Accept it!)
Ha ke hopola uêna, (When I think of you,)
Na nka qênêhêla’ng? (Why should I worry?)
Tsê ntlê ha ke na tsona, (I don’t have beautiful things,)
Tsê ka u khahlisang. (Which will satisfy you.)
Matla, leruo, bocha, (Strength, wealth, youth,)
Hlalêfo le tsohlê, (Intelligence and all,
U se kê ua li khêsa, (Don’t be against them,)
U li amohêle. (Accept them.)
Ho phêla hohlê ha ka, (My whole being,)
Nyênê lê bosiu, (Day and night,)
Ke ho bêêtse uêna, (I am sparing them for you,)
Ha ke ho re letho! (Let that mean something to you!)
U buê hlê, Monghali, (Talk please Lord,)
Le ‘na u ntaêlê, (Instruct me too,)
U nthomê mosêbêtsi, (Send me to work,)
Ke u sêbêlêtse. (To work for you.)
Leha u ka nthoma kaê, (Even if you send me anywhere,)
Ke na le ho thaba, (It makes me happy,)
Kahohle ho ‘n kê haê, (I feel at home,)
Moo kê rongoang k’uêna. (Where I am sent by you.)
Leha ke le lefêêla, (Even though I am nothing,)
Ke ntho êa hao ruri: (I am yours indeed:)
‘Na ha ke sa na taba, (I don’t worry,)
Ke ho uêna, nthêrê. (I am yours build me.)

Part 4: Sharing the promise of life
The news of God with us, in our midst, is a promise of life for all people – not for us alone. And so, as those who have received God’s love and light, let us pray for the life of all people, everywhere.

O Father who so faithfully brings light into the darkness, beauty into chaos, love into power
we pray this day for all who suffer under the oppression of tyranny and trouble,
of flood and famine,
of war and disaster,
of hatred and suspicion,
of greed and terror.
Make us welcoming and sensitive to all who come into our midst looking for hope and freedom.
Let Your light shine through us with the promise of life.

O Christ cradled in human arms as angels and shepherds and wise men worshipped,
we pray this day for all who feel vulnerable, fragile, afraid of what the future holds –
for those homeless by choice and by necessity,
for those barely able to afford a little bread,
for those who have been criticised and ridiculed,
victimised and abused because of their age or gender or religion or ethnicity,
for those chronically ill or in constant pain.
Make us welcoming and sensitive to all who come into our midst looking for sanctuary and justice.
Let Your light shine through us with the promise of life.

O Spirit whose guiding star leads people to the truth of Your presence,
and the best life made possible by Your love,
we pray this day for all who are on the path of seeking and searching
whether driven there by unquenchable curiosity,
or longing,
or loneliness,
or boredom,
or stress-related illness,
or heart-wrenching loss.
Make us welcoming and sensitive to all who come into our midst looking for significance and sense.
Let Your light shine through us with the promise of life.

Lord of the light of your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness shining
Jesus, light of the world shine upon us
Set us free by the truth you now bring us
Shine on me, shine on me
Shine Jesus shine,
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit blaze,
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations
With grace and mercy
Send forth your Word, Lord
And let there be light.
Lord I come to your awesome presence
From the shadows into your radiance
By the blood I may enter your brightness
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness
Shine on me, shine on me …
As we gaze on your kingly brightness
So our faces display your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell your story
Shine on me, shine on me …

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
We will wake up, look up,
put our face in the sunlight,
and speak up
that God’s bright glory might shine upon the whole earth.
Amen.

There’s a Light upon the mountains

Each Christmas our lectionary readings take us into familiar territory with its inherent danger of boredom and stagnation. Yet as I skimmed the oft-thumbed pages, two songs of my childhood emerged and merged within my imagination bringing a forth a new song of praise and wonder reflected in the liturgy for the day which should flow rhythmically between the speaking and singing:

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him
Who brings good news, good news;
Announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness:
Our God reigns, our God reigns!

There’s a light upon the mountains,
and the day is at the spring,
When our eyes shall see the beauty
and the glory of the King;
Weary was our heart with waiting, and
the night-watch seemed so long,
But His triumph-day is breaking, and
we hail it with a song.

Our familiar readings are:

  • Isaiah 52:7-10 – the watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem shout in wonder the Good News of God’s return and eternal reign;
  • Psalm 98 – the new song of God’s salvation resounds through human hands and voices, as well as ocean roar and mountain rumble;
  • Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12) – the Son is introduced as the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being; as He who laid the earth’s foundations and will steadfastly endure;
  • John 1:1-14 – the true Light comes into the world – sometimes unwelcome, sometimes unwanted, sometimes unacknowledged – but unlimited and inextinguishable.

***

Through darkest night, with dimming sight,
and hearts in need of rest,
we have watched and we have waited
for Your day to dawn, O Rising Sun.

*the Advent Candle is lit*

Let the sea and everything in it roar;
Let the world and everyone on it shout and sing;
Let the rivers gurgle in delight;
Let the mountains rumble together for joy:
The Sun-maker has come to set the whole world right.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored:
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the favored one.
Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail! the heav’n born Prince of peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!” 

O Hope-Bringer,
Inextinguishable and Eternal Son,
Sweetest Giver of Gifts,
who comes to us even while we sleep,
even while we are sinners,
with the Good News of God with and within us
no matter whether we have been bad or good;
like shepherds fresh from the fields,
and wise men weary from many months of travel,
we gather this day to worship and adore you.

O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

You are beautiful.
You are radiant.
You are marvellous to behold –
the shining Light of God’s glory,
the imprint of God’s being
on fragile human form,
cradled in human arms;
Emmanuel – God-with-us
that we might see the possibility
for peace and love and justice
to be borne in the midst of human hearts,
and human hurts, this day.

Kom buig nou in aanbidding
Kom buig nou in aanbidding
Kom buig nou in aanbidding
Voor Jesus die Heer

O Untiring, Unchanging One,
You started it all, laying the earth’s foundations,
crafting the stars in the sky,
knitting us together so carefully, so tenderly,
within a mother’s womb.
Sometimes we have been ignorant of Your great gifts.
Sometimes we have been ungrateful.
Sometimes we have been unfaithful.
Sometimes we have been unwelcoming.

*a moment of silence for confession*

Our Costly Treasure,
who took on our death that we might know life,
remind us this day that we are Your beloved children,
Sons and Daughters of the Most High God.
Show us how to welcome Your light
and walk upon the paths of peace
that the whole world might see Your grace,
Your victory,
and worship He-Who-Holds-Everything-Together.

Wozani Simdumise
Wozani Simdumise
Wozani Simdumise
U Krist’ inkosi

John 1:1-14 (The Message)
The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.

What came into existence was Life,

and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.

There once was a man, his name John,
sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light.
He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in.
John was not himself the Light;
he was there to show the way to the Light.

The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life
he brings into Light.

He was in the world,
the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
but they didn’t want him.

But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.

These are the God-begotten,
not blood-begotten,
not flesh-begotten,
not sex-begotten.

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.

We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

*a reflection is offered*

O Come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him,
Born the King of Angels:
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

True God, of true God,
Light of light eternal,
Lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father,
Begotten, not created:
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above:
“Glory to God
In the highest:”
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning.
Jesus, to thee be glory given:
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing:
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

Once we were watchmen upon the walls,
longing and praying for Your coming, O Christ.
Now we are lights upon the mountain,
full of Your light,
for You are born
and Your Spirit blazes deep within.

Be with all in need of rest and restoration,
Comfort and consolation.
May our lives shine like candles in their darkness,
A beacon of hope in their brokenness,
this day, and forevermore.
Amen.

There’s a light upon the mountains,
and the day is at the spring,
When our eyes shall see the beauty
and the glory of the King;
Weary was our heart with waiting,
and the night-watch seemed so long,
But His triumph-day is breaking,
and we hail it with a song.

There’s a hush of expectation,
and a quiet in the air;
And the breath of God is moving
in the fervent breath of prayer;
For the suffering, dying Jesus
is the Christ upon the throne,
And the travail of our spirit
is the travail of His own.

He is breaking down the barriers,
He is casting up the way;
He is calling for His angels
to build up the gates of day;
But His angels here are human,
not the shining hosts above,
For the drum-beats of His army
are the heart-beats of our love.

Hark! we hear a distant music,
and it comes with fuller swell;
’Tis the triumph song of Jesus,
of our King Emmanuel;
Zion, go ye forth to meet Him,
and my soul, be swift to bring
All thy sweetest and thy dearest
for the triumph of our King.

 

Advent 2: Preparing the Way

Whereas last week’s readings invited us to see the signs God’s needed presence, we must do more than pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come into the dark and despairing places of our lives, our world.” The second Sunday of Advent calls us to be people who prepare the way: who make straight that which is crooked and who set an example of an alternative way of life.

The lectionary readings that give voice to this call this week are:

  • Malachi 3:1-4 speaks of the labour-intensive processes of refining and laundering that are necessary to purify and clean us as we make ready for God’s coming.
  • Luke 1:68-79, also known as the Benedictus or “Zechariah’s Song,” stirs notes of hope and anticipation of what it means to “prepare the way” as Jesus would and did – to make known our salvation through the forgiveness of sins, to shine with the light of God’s tender mercy on those living in darkness and in death, and to guide our feet in the path of peace.
  • Philippians 1:3-11 gives us assurance that the good work begun within us not only has its origins in God, but will be carried by God until its completion with the coming of Christ Jesus.
  • Luke 3:1-6 begins the story of John the Baptist who, as the prophets foretold, gave up a life in the wilderness in order to preach a gospel of repentance that would eventually cost him that life.

Call to worship (based on Malachi as the second candle of Advent is lit):
We come into this sacred space,
at this sacred hour,
hoping to glimpse the light of Your presence
and to feel the comforting warmth of Your hand
guiding us through the twists and turns of our lives.
Satisfy our desire for You, O God.
Come to us with forger’s fire and launderer’s soap in hand
that we might be pure,
that we might be clean,
that we might be made new in our meeting.

Prayer of praise and pardon (based on the Benedictus):
Let us give praise to the Lord, the God of Israel, who does not remain distant or untouched by our troubles:
Blessed be He who has come to help his people,
who has given us our freedom.

Let us give praise to the Lord, our powerful Saviour; descended from a line of servants to serve us as the prophets foretold:
Blessed be He who saves us from our enemies and our oppressors,
who shows us mercy and grace.
Let us give praise to God, the Father of Abraham, who is faithful in keeping promises and offering us protection from those who persecute us:
Blessed be He who who makes us good and holy,
who, as we worship, carries our cares and quells our fears.
Let us give praise to the Most High God and to Christ Jesus, our Lord, who has gone before us to prepare the path of eternal life and love:
Blessed be he who forgives our sins,
who gives us the assurance that we have been saved.

*a moment of silent confession can be offered as people claim the blessing of forgiveness as they have just blessed the One who Forgives*

With the loving mercy of our God,
a new day from heaven will dawn upon us.
May it shine on those who live in darkness,
who tremble in the shadow of death and despair,
and show us the way – step by step – to perfect peace.

 

The Benediction (based on the Philippians reading):
May He Who Began A Good Work In You
be faithful to complete it:
and until we meet again may we grow in love
and in the way of life that Christ would be proud of;

pure and blameless and righteous
to the glory and praise of God.

 

Advent 1: Pointing to God’s Presence

As I prepare for the first Sunday in Advent this week, I am deeply aware of the troubled and turbulent times in which we live; times that necessitate pointing again to the Hope that is Christ Jesus.

The readings for this coming Sunday are:

  • Jeremiah 33:14-16 – the promise of a good branch coming from the line of Jesse to bring justice, righteousness, safety and salvation;
  • Psalm 25:1-10 – a prayer professing our trust in God, confessing our own rebelliousness, and expressing our dire need to return to God’s good and upright ways;
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 – a blessing of strength, purity, confidence and love to flow in and through our lives while we wait in anticipation of Christ’s coming;
  • Luke 21:25-36 – a warning to heed the signs of Christ’s coming and, I believe, an invitation to find in the midst of the trouble and turmoil, spaces in which we can bring God’s needed presence.

Call to worship (based on the Jeremiah reading):
The time is coming when God will do the good thing God has promised:
God will open our eyes to Immanuel – God-right-here-with-us.
He will do what is fair and just and right.
He will bring us not only salvation, but also an assurance of safety.
There will be peace in our land.
And we will name him, “The Lord Does What Is Right.”

Prayers of praise and confession (based on Psalm 25):
O Lord Who Does What is Right,
we call upon You this day for You are faithful and true.
In You we put our trust at the start of this season of waiting
for, as the prophets foretold, in You we will never be put to shame:
darkness will never overcome us
and our enemies will never be victorious.
There is no need for us to be afraid.

And yet, God Of Promise For Whom We Watch And Wait,
sometimes our hearts and minds are so full of fear
that there is little room left for You,
just like there once was in that tiny inn
in that tiny town of Bethlehem.

We confess that we too have been sleeping,
that we have been selfish,
that we have been self-medicating:
drinking, shopping, working, screwing
to dull our ever-growing fearfulness
~ that water is running out and famine and crippling inflation will devour us,
~ that no city is safe from the unrelenting bombings and suspicion of those who are different,
~ that the world we have exploited is lashing out at us through earthquakes and fires and floods and disease,
~ that the life that was promised to people finally freed from nationalised hatred and bigotry is only an elusive lie as the powerful profit and the poor continue to cry.

O Lord Whose Great Love and Mercy Have Been Known Since the Days of Old,
remind us that Your ways are full of grace and compassion,
hope and righteousness.
Do not hold our sins against us
but put us on the good and upright paths
that lead to humility and restoration,
safety and salvation.

*silence*

The Psalmist assures us, “No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.”
“Guide us in Your truth and teach us, for You are God, our Saviour, and our hope is in You all day long.”

Communion liturgy (based on the passage from Luke):
Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man,
it seems like all hell has broken loose:
everyone all over the world in a panic,
the threat of doom hovering over us
~ in disaster,
~ in disease,
~ in dis-ease.

We thank You for this table –
the regular sign of Your presence
with and within us
in the simple elements of bread and wine.

In our woundedness,
in our fearfulness,
we remember bread blessed and broken:
“Your body broken for me.”

In our sinfulness,
in our hopelessness,
we remember the cup of forgiveness poured and shared:
“Your blood shed for me.”

*lighting of the HIV/AIDS candle set on the altar with the elements*

In our belonging,
in our belovedness,
we remember this day our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers,
still suffering from the stigma and the sickness of HIV and AIDS:
“Your light and love shine upon them, as they shine upon me.”

And so, as we eat this bread and drink this cup,
we receive the power of Your present and we proclaim:
“We will stand tall with our heads held high.
Help is on the way.
Hallelujah!
The Lord does what is right!
Hallelujah!”

The benediction (based on the Thessalonians passage):
Until we meet again,
may Jesus clear your way.
May he strengthen our hearts
so that we can be blameless and holy,
overflowing with love and light 
until Christ comes again.

Life-loving and love-living God

An opening prayer for Sunday services based on Psalm 23 and Matthew 22:1-14. Interspersed with verses from “Be still and know that I am God.”

Leader:
Oh life-loving and love-living God,
You are the Lord of the Dance,
The Provider of the Feast,
The Host who welcomes us with open arms,
The Guide into ways rich with Your goodness and Your grace.

Congregational response:
You call us from our work and busy-ness
to rest quietly a while with You.
You invite us in our scarcity and our loneliness
to eat and drink and rejoice with the family Your love has created.
You journey with us through places of brokenness and despair
to spaces full of light and love and possibility.

Leader:
Be still a while and become aware of the Love with and within you …

(Silence is kept)

Be still and know that I am God,
be still and know that I am God,
be still and know that I am God.

Congregational response:
Oh life-loving and love-living Lord,
Forgive us when we fail to show up,
When we do not respond to Your invitation,
When we cannot hear Your call over all the voices
that we have given place and power to in our lives.
Rescue us from wrong priorities,
Confront us with our self-centeredness and our superficial commitment –
to You,
and to others that we love.
Open our eyes to Your generosity and Your constant, comforting presence, and clothe us anew in goodness, integrity and honesty.

I am the Lord that healeth thee,
I am the Lord that healeth thee,
I am the Lord that healeth thee.

Leader:
Oh life-loving and love-living Spirit,
Settle into the depths of our soul,
the knowledge, the assurance
That our prayers have been heard,
Our sins washed away,
Our capacity for seeing, embracing,
and sharing life and love restored.

Congregational response:
Be the Rod and the Staff that comfort and protect us,
The Oil of gladness that anoints and heals us,
The seal and the symbol of the eternity of days
that we will dwell in the house of the Lord,
Even as we gather in God’s house this day.
Amen.

In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust,
In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust,
In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust.