Who is this Jesus?

A reflection on Luke 8:22-25 for Storm Sunday and ahead of the Global Climate Strike ….

One day Jesus boarded a boat with the disciples and said, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they took off.

As they were sailing, Jesus took a nap.

Soon a squall came down on the lake, and they began to take on water to a dangerous degree. They woke him and said,
“Rabbi! Rabbi! We’re sinking!”

Jesus got up, and reprimanded the wind and the waves. Immediately the storm subsided and all was calm again.
“Where is your faith?” he asked them.

But they were both afraid and amazed, and they said to one another, “Who is this, who gives orders to the wind and the waves, and they obey him?”

Luke 8:22-25 The Inclusive Bible

Believe it or not we’re all in the same boat. And it’s taking on water – fast!

Whether we’re male or female, old or young, Anglo or Asian, wealthy or poor, Christian or atheist, politician or street-cleaner, living in first world Australia or war torn Congo, we are all vulnerable to and responsible for the extreme weather and climate events happening across the world.

From heatwaves, fires and droughts to hurricanes, heavy downpours and floods,
~ Earth demands our attention,
~ Nature reminds us of how fragile we really are,
~ and Disaster brings us together in acts of courage and compassion that deny our self-interests and defy all that divides us from one another.

We may well ask, in the midst of all this danger and devastation, where is the Lord God Almighty?

Luke’s answer, at first glance, is not a reassuring one: Jesus is asleep in the boat!

And whether we’re talking about situations that have us physically in fear of our lives or so mentally exhausted or emotionally drained that we don’t know how we’re going to make it through the next day, that’s just not the picture of God that we want to have in our heads.

Anyone of us who has gone through or is going through a tough time can fully understand that the disciples natural reaction in their time of trouble was to turn to the most powerful person they knew: wake up! Do something. Show that you care. Jesus, save us!!!

That is the cry of so many hearts throughout the world today – many of them not even believers; simply people so desperate that they’ll try anything.

Do we have any idea what it feels like to be waiting for that one final wave that will sink our boat and pull us down, down, down into the deep where there is no breath, no light, no hope and no-one is prepared to help?

We seem to have lost sight of the fact that the Gospel is not just the good news that Jesus loves me and died that I might be free of my sin and shame to live life full and free as I choose. The Good News as embodied by Christ Incarnate in our midst is that God is right here in the boat
with the abused wife,
the persecuted Muslim,
the homeless refugee,
the hungry child,
the last northern white rhinos
– with all of our sinking humanity, our groaning creation –

… for God so loved the world that he gave his only son ….  

John 3:16

I wonder what those desperate disciples were wanting Jesus to do when they woke him. Were they thinking that he could help them bail out some of the water? Did they hope that he would lead them in prayer and God would intervene on their behalf? Were they looking for a final blessing so that they could enter their eternal rest at peace?

They certainly didn’t anticipate that Jesus would scold the storm and it would listen. When he quiets the wind and the waves with a word, they are both too amazed and too afraid to even respond to his question, “Where is your faith?” 

Instead, they have a question of their own: “Just who is this Jesus that we’re following?”

It’s a question that we might want to add on to “how does this advance the coming of the kingdom of God?” as we seek to be an authentic, inclusive community of faith in this particular time and this particular place for the answer changes everything. 

“Just who is this Jesus that we’re following?” 
The son of Mary and Joseph?
A carpenter?
A teacher? 
A myth, a legend?
A historical figure?
The Son of God?
The Promised Messiah?
The Light of the World?

In our text today, in the time of need, Jesus’ disciples call out to their Rabbi – their teacher, their master. They’ve seen him heal a leper, eat with sinners, stand up to the religious whose practices kept people from knowing the presence of God. They’ve heard him preach with power, cure disease at a distance, and they’ve even witnessed how he raised a widow’s son from the funeral bier – yet somehow they have not understood who he is: the Lord of heaven and earth, the Living Word.

For a couple of decades now, we’ve been trying to repackage the Almighty God into Jesus, our best friend, soft and warm and cuddly and conveniently on call for emergencies or when there’s no one else around to care but, today, the One with the authority to calm the waves and speak peace to the wind asks us, “Where is your faith?” 

I want us to take a moment to feel the weight of that question, the intensity of Christ’s gaze on us, because the words are not just a reprimand in response to them doubting his power. I believe that beneath the surface lies a deeper question: why did you wake me instead of stilling the storm yourselves? 

Friends, we are more than disciples: we are sons and daughters of the Most High God. God’s Spirit dwells within us – the very same Spirit that hovered over the deep and brought life and light to the darkness and the chaos. And we have been given authority to go into the world, to get into the boats that are sinking as a sign of the presence of the Living Word with all that He loves, and to do more than try to rouse God in our Sunday services and occasional prayers ….

In the very next chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus sends out the twelve with no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt, to proclaim the good news and heal people everywhere. That moment in the boat of sheer desperation, that question “just who is this Jesus that we’re following” changed everything … and I wonder, this morning, what lies ahead in our next chapter as Church? 

With the drought, our young people calling for our support and action in addressing climate change, and the press of problems in the loves of people that we know and people we may never even meet, it can’t be
~ business as usual,
~ worship as usual,
~ giving as usual ….    

We’re all in the same boat. And it’s taking on water – fast! May God reprimand the powers that seem beyond reproach this week and speak “Peace” through us.

May the peace of the Lord be with you.

Storm Sunday

Ideas for intergenerational worship on Storm Sunday. I used Rex Hunt’s wonderful progressive liturgies for the Season of Creation as a starting point.

Call to worship

The windows of the sanctuary are covered with black fabric or cardboard and a black tablecloth is placed on the altar with a single, unlit candle. As people enter the sanctuary a digital display of powerful storms, accompanied by sounds of rain and thunder plays.

Before the call to worship is offered, one volunteer is positioned with a gong on one side of the church and children with an assortment of pots, drums, spoons and other “noisemakers” on the other. Other volunteers stand ready to remove the window coverings. Instructions are given on what each group must do when you signal to them.

In the beginning the Creative Spirit hovered over the darkness of the deep …
<a cymbal or gong is clanged>
… and into the emptiness, into the chaos the Living Word thundered
<a cymbal or gong is clanged>
“Let there be light.”

<the black cardboard or fabric is removed from the windows
while you light the candle on the altar>

And there was – Light and Life and Love.
<the gong or cymbal is clanged, three times>

This day we invite, through the Spirit,
the power of the storm to gather with us.
The wild winds and the dark clouds,
the lightning flash and the thunder roll.
The fierce gales and blinding rains,
the crashing waves and swaying trees.

<wild crashing of pots and pot lids by children>

But with our invitation comes the question:
Where is the Almighty in all of this?
In the storm?
In the cyclone?
In the tsunami?
In the thunder of the storm?

<wild crashing of pots and pot lids by children – followed by signal for silence>

Or in the stillness after the storm?
<the quiet is kept,
the storyteller takes their place behind the altar and lays out the pieces for the story to come,

the children can be invited to gather round with simple hand gestures> 

Prayers of wonder: Noah’s Ark

For the story on Storm Sunday, I use Godly Play materials and an adapted version of “the flood and the ark” which includes “wondering” invitations to prayer/sharing throughout. A simple children’s story Bible could be used instead with these responses added where suitable. 

I have included the “wondering” responses and the wording which precedes them below:

  1. But people began to do bad things. God decided to send a great flood of water to wash everything clean and make it new again. I wonder what we want God to wash clean or make new in our lives. 
  2. Noah and all his family began to build the ark. I wonder what God would like us to build together in this place as God’s family.
  3. But God did not forget the creatures on the ark. I wonder if we have ever felt like God has forgotten us.
  4. All the creatures began to come out of the ark. They were so happy to be home again that they could not help it. They had to say their prayers to try to say how happy they were. They made an altar and gave thanks to God. I wonder what we’d like to thank God for today.
  5. Suddenly, all the creatures saw a great bow in the sky. It was a bow of many colours. You can still see it today when there is rain and the sun is shining. Today we call it a rainbow. <Use the prism to create a rainbow in the room – you may have to experiment in advance as to where and what angle best catches the light – if you’re happy with a little more chaos, give children flashlights and let them figure it out>This rainbow was God’s sign to say that God will never send such a flood again. I wonder what promises God has made you and what promises you have made God.
  6. The creatures then went out into all the four corners of the earth and filled it up again with life. <These words lead into the prayers for the world>

Prayer for the world 

Like many places in the world at the moment, water scarcity is a major concern in our community – particularly for those who make their living on the land. Our faith community will be joining other congregations in the region in prayer for an end to the drought. While these prayers can be offered in the church, we will “go out into the four corners of the earth to fill it up again with life.” 

In a circle outside, with some chairs for those who cannot stand for long periods of time and bubble wands for the young and young at heart (echoing the rainbow colours inside), we will simply sing these four lines as our prayer:

Let it rain,
let it rain.
Open the floodgates of heaven.
Let it rain.

Children’s activity

We have been creating a Season of Creation panorama using the glass panels in our church. For Storm Sunday, the panel will be covered in black cardboard and the kids’ rainclouds will be added after the service.

The instructions for these cute clouds can be found at Raincloud craft.

Love Feast

After reflecting on “Who is this Jesus?” from the Gospel Reading of Luke 8:22-25, a simple love feast will be shared using the following words as a call to the table:

When the dark clouds thicken
and the squall rides high,
and the wild winds whistle,
and the storm birds cry, 
we will find our peace
at a table wide
where the Lord of Love’s 
pierced limbs and side
reveal the truth
that he is here
and death is done
and guilt and fear.

<the blessing, breaking, and sharing of bread and wine>

Star-gazing

As part of our journey during the Season of Creation, the Loop has created space for our community to encounter God in earth, humanity, sky, mountains and through the blessing of animals in different ways.

This past Friday, we enjoyed the quiet out in Uranquinty, simply staring at the stars and drinking in the silence as we contemplated the wonder of the God who knows them – and us – all by name.

Many thanks to Ruth Kerr who wrote the reflection below for the evening and has given me permission to share it here:

Stargazing

 

 

Earth Sunday: open your eyes

*reflection based on Romans 1:18-23 and John 1:1-14 for Earth Sunday – Season of Creation*

A couple of years ago my optometrist told me that the best gift I could give myself when I hit 40 was a pair of reading glasses. I’m now 42 and quite proud of the fact that I still haven’t had to get a pair; although, honestly, my eyes are very tired after a few hours of serious study and there are more than a few nights when I’ve gone to bed with a searing headache.

That gift to myself is actually long overdue, but I have plenty of good excuses: I don’t have time to go and see an optometrist; I’ve never found a pair of frames that really suits my face; it’s just another thing to remember and misplace and waste time looking for; but – honestly again – I’m actually pretty smug about the fact that I’ve spent hours of my life in front of a computer screen gaming and I still have excellent eye-sight!

The truth we encounter in Scripture today is that God longs to be known and offers us all of creation as the lens through which we can begin to see God’s eternal power and to unveil the mystery of God’s divine being.

Equally true is that many of us don’t want these God-coloured glasses – even though they’re the best thing for us. And we’re full of fantastic excuses:

  • we don’t have time to sit with and see the Divine Optometrist;
  • we’ve never found frames that suit our pre-existing picture of God or ourselves or the world around us;
  • they’re yet another thing for us to forget and misplace and have to intentionally search for;
  • and, actually, we’re pretty smug surrounded by the cheap figurines we’ve accumulated along life’s way that give the impression that we’re really important or smart or popular or successful or just plain better than other people.

The Message tells us that the reality of God is plain enough (vs. 18).

It’s captured in the stars, the silence, the burnt-orange sunsets, the crashing seas.

It’s in the science that keeps us grounded to this spot instead of suddenly floating away; that dictates that with the phloem and xylem of a flower cut off from the roots of the plant, it will wither and die in a few days; that allows us to create and capture our thoughts while sitting in our studies in Australia and share them with people we’ve never met, in places we’ve never visited in an instant.

It’s in the sum total of your life story and my life story woven together – all of the “coincidences,” all of the “you won’t believe what happened next-s,” all of the inexplicable moments that we haven’t even shared out loud because people might think we’re crazy.

The reality of God is plain enough … if we are prepared to open our eyes and take a long and thoughtful look at what God has created.

When we put on the God-coloured glasses of creation, and take a long and thoughtful look around us, there are a few things that we can see more clearly.

Firstly, we can see that God is far bigger than we can ever imagine or comprehend or describe or even begin to worship adequately. That’s why mystery is such an important term in the Christian faith: we’ll never know it all; we’ll never be able to claim that we are on the inside track of God’s good graces while others are on the out; we’ll never have a perfect understanding of who God is or what God wants – at least not in this life.

But God longs to be known by us, and every day, if we’re open to it, God enriches our knowing and our wonder and our love by unveiling the next little bit of the Divine mystery that we’re ready to receive, ready to wrestle with, ready to respond to.

In being open to the length and breadth and height and depth of God – and God’s love – we, secondly, see more clearly our own smallness in the ways in which we seek to contain and control this creative fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – or Birther of the Cosmos, Liberator of Women, and Comforter of those who weep – if we’re looking for less traditional imagery and language.

Sometimes we don’t treat God like God because we’re afraid of what we might have to sacrifice or surrender or change along the way. Sometimes we’re just being stubborn. Sometimes we’re so focussed on being good leaders that we forget to be humble followers. Sometimes we want things to work out in our favour, to go according to our plans. Sometimes we’re enraged by the bad things that happen to good people and the good things that happen to bad people and figure that if we take charge things would turn out more fairly. And sometimes, well, sometimes we think that we know best so we roll up our sleeves with an “I’ve got this God” attitude and get right to work without thinking through the consequences or worrying about who we might hurt or alienate or forget along the way.

There’s no excuse for it. No way to avoid the damage that we do when we pretend to know it all, to have it all sorted; when we replace the hands that hold the whole world with our own.

For it’s when we try to trivialise God’s glory and apportion God’s love and administer God’s justice through our own small view that human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate and people lose faith in a church that has lost sight of the renewing, restoring, revitalising life and love of the God who paints with many colours ….

Indeed, through the lens of creation we begin to see the both-and possibilities of God, rather than the either-or (or even neither-nor) position that, in our smallness, we seem to adopt as our default way of being in a world so big and a universe so unknown and mysterious.

In the beginning … was the Word and the Word was with God; in that beginning, as all things came into being through the Word and the words “let there be light” brought something new into the darkness, we saw the full glory of God – not in the light obliterating the darkness but, in fact, accentuated by it.

Light and dark;
heaven and earth;
ebb and flow;
life and death;

Father, Son and Spirit;
proton, neutron, and electron;
gas, liquid, and solid;
animals in the sea and sky and on land;

spring, summer, autumn, and winter;
earth, air, fire, and water;
north, south, east, and west ….

In our ever-expanding Universe, God is always astounding and – sometimes – confounding us – in the miracles of conception and development, the abundant diversity of life, and the confluence of factors that sustain it.

You and I are wholly insignificant in the grand scheme of things and yet we act as though we are at the centre of the universe and all that exists should either contribute to our happiness or be cut off, cut out, ignored, isolated, attacked, ridiculed, corrected, or even – obliterated.

Do you want to know the most amazing thing about being God’s created children?

Despite our smallness and our relative insignificance and our silliness, God sees us – clearly; beyond the skin and bones that God knit together cell by cell, to who we are in our hidden depths … and God wants to be known and loved and worshipped by all (the whole) of us.

Over the next five weeks of the season of creation, as we look together at the earth, at humanity, at the sky, at the mountains, and at the animals, we have the opportunity to examine our lives through the lens of God’s creation and see who or what it is that we are really worshipping.

Against the vast mystery of who God is and how and why God loves us, we can know our own smallness and take ownership of the myriad ways in which our insecurities and ambitions have damaged the Earth and caused the people with whom we have journeyed pain or sorrow. We may even be moved to that radically vulnerable act of saying sorry and working towards reconciliation and understanding.

We can be liberated through the creative imaginings of God who brings together colour and form and function in oftentimes contradictory and surprising ways to enrich the grand tapestry of life from the sense of scarcity and self-importance that leads to so much of the mistrust and wrongdoing in the world.

We can find rest as we entrust those things that we have grasped hold of as our own and sought to manage and contain and control into the hands of the One who holds the whole world.

And, above all, if we’re open to it, we can be surprised by God, delighted by the gift of Earth, re-energised and revitalised by the wonder of what is and what might be.

So … clear a morning, or an evening, turn off your phone, shake off your walking shoes, pack a picnic, head to a quiet spot … perhaps even take a friend or a family member with you … and sit in a place that speaks to you of God’s greatness and your smallness … and treasure a moment in which you are surrounded by the handiwork of God … and wonder at the fact that in that moment God is treasuring you too – for you are God’s handiwork.

The reality of God is plain enough … if we are prepared to open our eyes and take a long and thoughtful look at what God has created.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the wilderness to wide places

The focus this Sunday within the Season of Creation series is on the wilderness: those barren, uninhabited, often dry, and inhospitable areas; areas which scientists tell us are actually expanding due to human activity and the burden that the every-increasing human population is putting upon the Earth’s resources.

The Earth is becoming a dry place in which to live – both physically, and also spiritually.  Just as the soil is losing its moisture and, subsequently, its diverse and protective vegetation, so too are many of us losing the nurturing and refreshing sense of God’s presence due to our increasingly hectic schedules.

Isn’t it ironic that the very desire for a better life, for the fulfillment of God’s promises of fullness and abundance, drives us at a frenetic pace into a place of scarcity and exhaustion – a place where we wonder at times how we are even going to survive the next few days, let alone the next couple of years?

It is here, in the wilderness, that the lament of the prophet Joel makes sense to us:

The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up; the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails.  Despair, you farmers, wail you vine growers; grieve for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is destroyed.  The vine is dried up and the fig tree is withered; the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree – all the trees of the field are dried up.  Surely the joy of mankind is withered away (Joel 1:10-12).

Yet, it is when we feel this way; when we have reached the point of realising that our own energy and effort is insufficient for securing our happiness, that our reserves have dried up and our joy in living has slipped away, that we can truly be open to the whispered invitation of God:

I’ll lead you to a spacious place; I’ll rescue you because I delight in you. (Psalm 18:9, paraphrased).

The wilderness is not something that exists out there, outside of us.  It is what we create within us when we let the pressure to perform and the desire to succeed erode away at precious time, important priorities, and the truth that God is always present with us.

The invitation this week is to allow God to call you from the wilderness into a wide place where you are open and attentive to God’s grace and tender care.  As you walk with God in the wideness may your joy be awakened, your strength restored, and your spirit refreshed.