Poppy Sunday

The prayers for this week’s Remembrance Service are taken both from the Uniting Church assembly resources (download from link at the bottom of the page) and a wonderful resource for Christian pilgrims and worship leaders: Tess Ward’s Celtic Wheel of the Year.

While the focus is on peace-making, I have chosen to use the lectionary readings for the week rather than some more obvious alternatives as they speak of the richness of human experience: the sanctity of life, the blessing of family (and children in particular), the vulnerability of the poor and the powerless, the inclusivity of God’s love and life, wise warning against the two-faced decision makers who are not prepared to give their all.

We see, especially in Ruth’s story, the protecting, restoring power of God coming full circle as Naomi’s advice to her daughter-in-law results in a good marriage, the birth of a child, and Naomi – in turn – being blessed by the love given and received. From loss, alienation, vulnerability comes harmony, security, the blessing of family, and the ever-expanding plan of salvation as Ruth (a foreigner) is written into the Messiah’s family tree.

As we remember, we recognise the difference that one life can make – in both its absence and its presence – and we are challenged to consider what difference our own lives will make in bringing about the peace of God’s promised kingdom, for all people.

I have included hymn suggestions from Together in Song. The service should flow through prayer and rituals related to the readings with the suggested hymns holding together a sacred space for our joy and sadness.

Let us remember:
peace begins with me

<water is poured from a plain jug into a plain (preferably transparent) bowl>

Blessed be you O Sacred Peace-maker
who longs for harmony
and weeps over the things we do to each other.
Indwell Your Spirit of peace in all we do this day.

Psalm 127 (The Message)

If God doesn’t build the house,
the builders only build shacks.
If God doesn’t guard the city,
the night watchman might as well nap.
It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late,
and work your worried fingers to the bone.
Don’t you know he enjoys
giving rest to those he loves?

Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?
the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows
are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents,
with your quivers full of children!
Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you;
you’ll sweep them right off your doorstep.

TiS 10 The Lord’s my Shepherd

Praise to you Suffering God.
You know the wounding by metal
of skin that was made to love.

Your prophets spoke long ago
of melting down weapons and bombs
to make machines for hospitals and farms,
of using money and intelligence spent studying war
on housing all and finding cures for our dis-eases.

Praise to you for not abandoning us
but remaining with us in the darkest dereliction
of our choice.

Be still in the silence and aware of the Love with and within …

<fresh, silk, or paper (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUiRFyPfwvU) poppies are floated on the water in the bowl>

O Holy One who came in peace,
your blood fell on dusty ground
like scarlet poppies in golden fields,
standing erect as graves,
for every father, son and brother;
for every woman too;
row on row of unmarked stone,
indecently clean and straight
belying the messy stain
that can never be eased from our story now.

As age shall not weary them,
may despair not overcome us.
We will not cover the spectre of terror with forgetfulness.
We will remember them.

<a candle is lit and, if appropriate, opportunity is given for sharing our remembering>

TiS 586 Abide with me

For all the war studied
and all the lessons never learned,
we offer our contrite hearts
and our sadness
and place them into Your hands.

<silence is kept>

Hear then the Good News (from Hebrews 9:27-28 The Passion Translation):

Every human being is appointed to die once, and then to face God’s judgment. But when we die we will be face-to-face with Christ, the One who experienced death once for all to bear the sins of many! And now to those who eagerly await him, he will appear a second time; not to deal with sin, but to bring us the fullness of salvation.

So, the peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.

<the peace is shared>

Old Testament Reading: Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 (NRSV)

Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.”

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighbourhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Gospel Reading: Mark 12:38-44 

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Meditation: let us remember (peace begins with me)

<can be done as a responsive prayer with the congregation offering the alternate lines>

Giver of peace, we pray for an end to war
but there can be none without living for peace.
We pray for peace in the world
but there can be none without peace in the nations.
We pray for peace in the nations
but there can be none without peace in our communities.
We pray for peace in our communities
but there can be none without peace between neighbours.
We pray for peace between neighbours
but there can be none without peace in our homes.
We pray for peace in the home
but there can be none without peace in the heart.
Give peace in our hearts this day O God
and when the fighting of this world overwhelms us,|
let us know that peace begins with us.
Amen.

TiS 607 Make me a channel of Your peace 

Let us pray for all who suffer as a result of conflict,
and ask that God may give us peace:

for the servicemen and women
who have died in the violence of war,
each one remembered by and known to God;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for those who love them in death as in life,
offering the distress of our grief and the sadness of our loss;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

for all members of the armed forces who are in danger this day,
remembering family, friends and all who pray for their safe return;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for civilian women, children and men
whose lives are disfigured by war or terror,
calling to mind in penitence the anger and hatreds of humanity;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for peace-makers and peace-keepers,
who seek to keep this world secure and free;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for all Defence Force chaplains offering support,
encouragement, acceptance, compassion and understanding
wherever and whenever it is needed;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

for all who bear the burden and privilege of leadership,
political, military and religious;
asking for gifts of wisdom and resolve
in the search for reconciliation and peace;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those whose memory we cherish,
and those whose names we will never know.
Help us to lift our eyes above the torment of this broken world,
and grant us the grace to pray for those who wish us harm.
As we honour the past,
may we put our faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever.
Amen.

TiS 614 O God of love 

May God’s dream of peace bless the world.
May every gun be dropped so every mouth be fed.
May every plan of war be torn up so every person may go to school.
May every fist raised become a tender hand towards a child.
May all God’s people sit in the shade of a tree, without fear.
Be present in our choices – this day [and evermore] –
and use us in Your dream of peace.
Amen.

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 ….

 

Day Four: Stand Tall

Psalm 79
Micah 5:1-5a
Luke 21:34-38

The story of Israel is a pedestrian one – in quite a literal sense!

From Abraham, who left his family and inheritance behind him in obedience to God’s command, to Moses who led a nation of slaves through the wilderness towards a land of milk and honey, to the regular pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem that their faith required, the people of Israel rigorously put one foot in front of the other in order to follow where God led.

The exile into Babylon – which seemed like the end to so many – was yet another step in the journey; just as the return and rebuilding would be.

As God’s people lamented their sins and pleaded for mercy … “may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need” (Psalm 79:8b, NIV) … a promise was delivered of a Saviour, a ruler who would “stand tall in his shepherd-rule by God’s strength, centred in the majesty of God-Revealed. And the people will have a good and safe home, for the whole world will hold him in respect—Peacemaker of the world!”
(Micah 5:4-5, The Message).

This is the promised Messiah for whom many Jews are still watching and waiting, hoping and praying. Yet, for many of us who call ourselves Christ-followers and regularly proclaim, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again,” the urgent plea for the coming of his kingdom of shalom has too frequently been replaced by polite prayers for God to please do something for someone in a place we can’t even point to on a map ….

The season of Advent provides us with the opportunity to consider how our faith, our commitment to follow, our pursuit of righteousness and mercy  has been dulled down by parties and drinking and shopping, lulled by the drudgery of daily routines, overridden by road rage and envy and a grand sense of entitlement, or buried beneath #hashtags and photoshopped faces.

As Luke warned his listeners to stay on their guard, praying constantly for wisdom and strength that they might end up on their feet before the Son of Man, so do the days leading up to Christmas call us from our complacency to stand tall and follow our Shepherd-ruler faithfully, that his peace may become a present reality in today’s world rather than the pleasant “one-day” dream that we ask for by rote.

If you are anything like me, you may well be wondering where to begin. One of the greatest reasons for our apathy and inactivity is often the sheer size of the problem ….

world_problems.jpg

                                                                                                                . < me

Yet, as Micah prophesies of the coming Messiah, he reveals a vital truth to hold onto: the salvation of the world comes from small things.

Just as the Messiah would be born to the tribe of Judah, the runt of the litter, in the tiny town of Bethlehem, so too can the most extraordinary, unexpected journeys begin with a small step of faith.

Today, put aside your Bible and/or journal in favour of standing up and taking a practical step towards making the kingdom a present reality. For example,  

Walk around your neighbourhood. Smile at people you pass and pray for them as your footsteps take you further. Or put a doggy watering station or a bench out on your pavement to encourage others to pause for a while.

Pin up a map, pick a place, learn all you can about what life is like for the people there and pray for them. Support an organisation offering help or care there. Go on a pilgrimage if you are able.

***

World problem’s image sourced at http://www.diplomacypakistan.com/articles/the-solution-to-the-worlds-problems-lies-not-in-new-economic-policies-or-military-alliances-but-in-love/

Advent 3: People of Peace

While the second Sunday of Advent calls us to be people who who make straight that which is crooked and who set an example of an alternative way of life, this week’s lectionary readings focus on peace (from inner turmoil and anxiety, as well as within our community living) as the pinnacle of kingdom-life:

  • Zephaniah 3:14-20 paints an almost contradictory picture of our Mighty-To-Save-God who quiets us with love, who calms our fears, and gathers together those who have been scattered, fragmented. Likewise, in becoming people of peace there is a need to hold together strength with gentleness, justice with compassion.
  • Isaiah 12:2-6 is a joyous expression of our safety and security as we draw from the endless well of God’s salvation.
  • Philippians 4:4-7 reminds us to bring our anxieties and cares about anything and everything to God in prayer that the peace of God may guard our hearts and minds from that which would lead as astray from real life and abiding joy.
  • Luke 3:7-18 continues the story of John the Baptist as he preaches the need for repentance into the specific context of people, righting relationships and bringing about the restoration of the image of authentic community. From those who have much, he asks mercy for those who have little. From those handling money, he asks for honesty and justice. From those who wield power over others, he asks for integrity and contentment with what they have. From all who repent of how they have been living, he asks that they produce fruit as evidence of their sincerity and transformation.

Call to worship (based on the Isaiah reading):
God, You are our strength and our salvation:
We will trust in You and not be afraid.
We will dwell with You beside quiet waters:
We will draw with joy from the wells of Your salvation.
There will be in our hearts a glad song:
We will tell the whole world of the glorious things You have done.
So raise the roof and shout aloud:
Our Great and Glorious God is among us.

Prayer of praise and pardon (based on the readings from Zephaniah and Philippians):
Lord, we rejoice in You:
our Strength,
our Song,
our Salvation,
for You alone are faithful,
You alone will never let us down.

Though, at times, we are afraid that You have abandoned us,
Though, at times, we tremble at the evil and the wickedness within the world,
Though, at times, we worry about those who wield power over us,
we will never give up on the peace and the hopefulness
that comes with Your presence in our midst –
a mighty warrior bringing victory,
creating calm and quiet with Your love,
removing our burdens and care-fullness,
restoring songs of gratitude and joy.

For You deal with all that oppresses us;
You rescue the lame and the weary;
You gather up those who feel fragmented, broken and lost.
You change our shame into glory;
You restore our fortune and full life;
You bring us back home into the shelter of Your love. 

Forgive us, O Lord,
for when we have allowed anxiety to silence our praises
and fear to make our hands fall in inaction and despair.

*a moment of silent confession can be offered*

Don’t be anxious about anything
but bring your petitions and your praises to God in prayer
and Christ will displace the sense of worry at the centre of your life
with his enduring peace.

So may the peace of the Lord be with you:
and also with you.

*the peace is shared*

The Benediction (based loosely on the Gospel reading):
The coming of Christ turns the world upside down:
despair into hopefulness,
sorrow into singing,
fear into peace.
Come into our lives, Lord Jesus,
that our honesty, integrity, justice and mercy

may proclaim Your goodness
more powerfully than our lips and upraised arms do.
Amen.

Perfect peace

One of the things that I love most about Scripture is how you can thumb past a passage time and time again without it having any real connection until, WHAM!, one day when you are in a particular spiritual space, it suddenly comes into focus.

This morning, the few lines of Psalm 131 had a significant effect upon me:

My heart is not proud, O Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quite my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

O Abba,
I confess that my heart has been proud:

full of selfish desire and ambition,
of secret wants and dreams;
I’ve been patting myself on the back
and holding my chin up high
in defiance of those who have neither seen nor affirmed me.

O Abba,
I confess that my eyes have been haughty:

that I have looked down on
~ those less educated,
~ those less articulate,
~ those less spiritual,
~ those less self-sacrificing,
in denial of my own inner poverty.

O Abba,
I confess that I have reached for things beyond me:
~ wisdom beyond my years,
~ position beyond my station,
~ meaning beyond my calling;
~ priorities beyond what truly gives me life
out of envy for what I could be missing out on.

Forgive me.

Still my soul.

Quiet my restless.

Tame my thoughts.

Curtail my desire to rush after that which will harm me.

Let me settle into Your motherly arms.
Let me enjoy being rocked back and forth to a place of calm.
Let the lullaby of Your love
affirm my belonging, my security,
and drive away my doubts and uncertainties.

And as my eyes grow heavy,
and my heart grows full of You,
and my head falls in perfect peace against Your chest
to better hear Your heartbeat,
fill my dreams with the hope
~ of home,
      and an eternity with You
         in such unbridled intimacy.