Damascus Moments

The transformation of Saul, the fanatical persecutor, into Paul, the fervent preacher of good news to the Gentiles is one of the most dramatic tales in Scripture (Acts 9). That Damascus moment, when he encountered the Light of Life and the voice of Jesus gently accusingly questioning, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” changed the course of his life entirely by altering not only what (or Who) he believed in, but the very purpose of his being.

His story has had me thinking about the Damascus moments along my way: ~ my conversion,
~ my call to ministry,
~ how I met my husband,
~ why we moved to the other side of the world,
~ how we came to settle in Wagga Wagga of all places ….

And I’m sure that that’s not going to be the last time that God gets my attention to move me in a new and unimagined direction!

In ministry I often come across people who are desperately searching to have their Damascus moment: an encounter with God that will lay to rest any doubts or uncertainties, reveal what their unique significance is in the world, and point out clearly the next steps that God wants them to take in this adventure that we call faith.

I think that it’s seldom as simple or easy as that!

As we look at Saul’s Damascus moment, we find that the encounter with Jesus left him blinded and completely dependent on his companions. He had to wait in the darkness for a stranger – who had every reason to fear and avoid him – to come and lay hands on him and heal him. And, after his transformation to Paul, throughout his travels, there was a constant leading of the Holy Spirit – now drawing him this way, now drawing him that way – that determined the “where to next” of his life and ministry.

In my own experience, no matter how clear the Voice, the vision, or the Scripture has seemed, each Damascus moment has only opened up a new possibility in my life, and journeying into that possibility has required risk, resolve (which my husband calls stubbornness), humility, and – my worst nightmare – utter dependence on God and on other people every step of the way.

For those in a process of transformation or discernment, praying for that Damascus moment, that elusive clarity, here are three gleanings from a fellow traveller:

  1. Make time for silence. Get away! Into the bush or the country, a retreat centre or monastery, a little hut with a kettle and toaster and no TV overlooking the sea. Without your cellphone or computer. Without that great book from your favourite author who you think can make the hard work easier. Without a 600 page commentary on Scripture. Take your searching heart and a pen and some blank paper, a Bible, walking shoes if you’re keen, or slippers and comfy pjs if you’re tired, and lots and lots of munchies because silence can be overwhelming and listening can be the hardest work of all.
  2. Participate in worship and mission regularly. And by participate, I don’t mean organise or lead. Some Sundays, be the person in the pew or handing a sandwich to a hungry preschooler, hungry yourself for that unexpected word to capture your attention, that song to move you, that story shared over tea time to get you thinking about more than whether the chairs have been packed away properly, or people heard what you were trying to tell them, or how things could go more smoothly next time. As Saul/Paul found, conversion and call is worked out in community – so be part of the Body into which you were baptised, as painful as that can be at times!
  3. Nurture companions for the way. I keep coming back again and again to my “Ananiases” – the people that God sent to help me make sense of what I had heard and what I was thinking. Sometimes, they advised me to wait; sometimes they told me to “go, go, go!” Sometimes they asked questions I didn’t really like or hadn’t really thought of. Sometimes they picked me up and bandaged my bloody hands and knees and nurtured and loved me until I had regained my strength and could try again. How I praise God for their company and wisdom and honesty and care! And how fascinating it is that there has been a different companion – God-provided – for every moment!!

And may God, our Constant Companion,
smile upon us in our times of settledness,
hold our hands in our times of change,
and bless us always in our becoming
as we make our way Home to Eternal Love.

Palm Sunday

Preparing for Palm Sunday as an all-in (my preferred, more all-encompassing term for intergenerational) worship, I wanted to create a space that would give voice to the clamour of voices in our own lives by moving from lots of noise and movement to a stiller listening which would ready us for the silence and shadows that deepen as we move through Holy Week.

PREPARATION

The sanctuary can be decorated with Palm fronds or these can be brought in during the singing of a processional hymn like All glory, laud and honour (Together in Song 333). Stones should also be strewn around the altar to create the scene of the Gospel reading.

Palm fronds sufficient for the average number of children attending your service should be cut out of light green cardboard and given to children/volunteers seated throughout the sanctuary (there are plenty of easy templates available through Google search). These will be used in making worship a little more interactive for children, as well as for the prayers of praise later in the service.

WELCOME

This or some other introduction:

Today, Palm Sunday,  marks the beginning of Holy Week. This is the day when Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and then enters it on a donkey as a person of peace rather than a rising power. Yet, in spite of his humble entry, he is hailed by the crowd who recognise him as being of God and praise him with loud hosannas. Only weeks later, they will be baying for his blood with shouts of “Crucify him.”

Our King is coming.
And so, we cry from our hearts,
“Hosanna. Save us!”

If it has not been sung as a processional hymn, TiS 333 is sung now.

CALL TO WORSHIP – CLAP YOUR HANDS

A rap/ rhyme with clapping and verbal responses. The leader should prepare the congregation for the expected actions which are either a repetition of the words “when the Lord comes” or three claps following any other phrase. The overall effect should be a fairly fast, fun, flowing call to worship in which people of all ages can participate. It really doesn’t need to be perfect, just loud! Here’s a (poor) example of the rhythm:

Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Everyone             (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)

All you people (clap, clap, clap)
Shout to God (clap, clap, clap)
With loud songs (clap, clap, clap)
Songs of joy (clap, clap, clap)

When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

We’ll shout and sing (clap, clap, clap)
Fear no earthly thing (clap, clap, clap)
Give Him everything (clap, clap, clap)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Everyone             (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)

All you people (clap, clap, clap)
Shout to God (clap, clap, clap)
With loud songs (clap, clap, clap)
Songs of joy (clap, clap, clap)

When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

We’ll call His name (clap, clap, clap)
Proclaim the fame (clap, clap, clap)
Of He who stays the same (clap, clap, clap)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Everyone             (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)

All you people (clap, clap, clap)
Shout to God (clap, clap, clap)
With loud songs (clap, clap, clap)
Songs of joy (clap, clap, clap)

When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

See Him enter in (clap, clap, clap)
Our humble King (clap, clap, clap)
Let us shout and sing (clap, clap, clap)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Everyone             (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)

All you people (clap, clap, clap)
Shout to God (clap, clap, clap)
With loud songs (clap, clap, clap)
Songs of joy (clap, clap, clap)

SONGS OF JOY

A medley of two or three choruses are sung with recurring words. The children are invited to wave their (cardboard) palm leaves in the air every time they hear those chosen words e.g. “hosanna” and “glory” sung. I would suggest Hosanna in the highest and Glory, glory in the highest and maybe the “laughing song” for the children in particular.

PALM PRAYERS (AND OFFERTORY)

In groups of 5 or 6, mixed group of adults and children write down on a (cardboard) Palm leaf some of the things that they would like to praise God for. When sufficient time has been given, one of the choruses above can be sung through again as children bring their “palms” forward and scatter them among the rocks at the altar as a symbol of bringing their prayers of praise to God. The offertory can also be collected at this time as an act of adoration.

GOSPEL READING: LUKE 19:28-40

Before this familiar story is read, set the scene by picking up one of the stones and holding it to your ear. Then look at it quizzically, tell everyone to shhhhhhhh, and listen again. Say, “In today’s story, Jesus tells the Pharisees that even if the people who were singing songs of praise to him were quiet, the stones would shout out. Can you help me find a stone that speaks?”

Encourage the children to help you look – or rather listen! – for one that talks. When you’ve exhausted all the options, suggest that maybe they’re keeping quiet because there are so many other voices in our lives that we’re always listening to. Ask them whose voices these may be.

After a short time of sharing, say, “So many voices. In our story from Luke today there are a lot of voices too. Maybe we can listen together and count how many people are talking.”

The story is read.

With the congregation, try to identify the “voices.” I count 5 that I will be talking about in the time of meditation:

  • Jesus – the voice of authority/instruction 
  • The colt’s owners – the voice of ownership/interrogation   
  • The two disciples – the voice of imitation/obedience
  • The voice of the multitude – the voice of praise/expectation
  • The Pharisees – the voice of criticism/offence 

“SILENT” PRAYER

To be offered slowly, gently.

O Still Point of our Turning World,
Let us be aware of You in silence this day.
Let us not be distracted by the clamour of every thought
But let us sit – still and safe –
In the certainty of Your presence
And the assurance of Your love.

Let us trust that You are enough
And we are enough
And it is enough just to be here,
Just as we are.

Free us from the voices that would have us believe otherwise:
That would lead us away,
That demand we get back to the busyness of our day,
That question our worth,
That criticise our efforts,
That worry us and wear us down.

In this moment,
May our hearts be still,
Our minds uncluttered,
Our faces unmasked,
Our spirits at ease.

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

A time of silence is observed – just allow it to expand as long as is comfortable. Then ….  

May the peace of the Lord be with You.
And also with you.

The peace is shared.

PALM CROSS ACTIVITY

As people return to their seats, the children can be invited to make palm crosses at the table – they will probably need assistance, or, at the very least, company.

https://www.catholicicing.com/how-to-fold-a-palm-cross-in-10-easy-steps/

MEDITATION/REFLECTION

PRAYERS FOR THE WORLD

(An adaptation of a prayer by Tess Ward)

Great God whose love can never be silenced
Hold us in Your heart when the noise of our busyness is hushed:
After the gunfire of war, the stillness of the fallen.
After the crying of the baby, the contentment of sleep.
After the gossiping of tongues, the wounded heart of the one that is reviled.
After laughter with friends, the void of solitude.
After the hymns have been sung, the watchful waiting of an empty church.
After the beloved voice of those dear to us, the nothingness with which we are faced when they are gone. 

Be with those who are afraid of the stillness that this day may hold,
With those for whom quiet is equated with loneliness or loss,
With those who know silence to be the calm before the storm of violence and abuse erupts,
With those who feel so voiceless in their situation that they wish the stones would cry out on their behalf.
Great God whose love can never be silenced
Hold them in Your heart.
Amen.

TiS 585 I heard the voice of Jesus say is sung

BENEDICTION

In the clamour of this day
grant us a stillness of seeing, O God.
In the conflicting voices of our hearts,
grant us a calmness of hearing.
Let our seeing and hearing,
our words and our actions,
be rooted in the silent certainty of Your presence.
And, in our certainty let us cry out,
“Hosanna. Save us!”
that the world may be blessed
By the love of the Father,
The Life of the Son,
And the leading of the still, small voice of the Spirit.
Amen.

TiS 779 May the feet or some other quiet song of blessing is sung

Attentive

At every moment God seeks entry into your heart. He gives you the opportunity to be part of his kingdom. You are offered the opportunity to live in the kingdom of light, the very kingdom of God, or to go your own way and walk on still in the darkness.

Why do you not choose? Why not leave the darkness and walk in hope? Leave your loneliness and learn to walk with God.

David Adam ~ The Path of Light

I have been guilty this year of neglecting attentive prayer.

I have prayed. Oh, have I prayed. Yet, as I look back over the year I realise that it has all been productive prayer i.e. prayer for a my purpose.

Wisdom.
Patience.
Healing.
Forgiveness.
Rest.
Guidance.

Prayers for my needs.
Prayers for the church.
Prayers for the world.
Prayers during pastoral visits.
Prayers from the lectionary.
Prayers for the pray-ers.

I have prayed. Oh have I prayed. And God has been faithful.

God has been there for me. In a big way. But in my busyness, I have often only been half present with my wandering thoughts and divided attention.

There have been, it seems, so many things more pressing than attentive prayer – with the result that I have dislocated myself from the divine presence; placed myself in hell by attending to all the pressing things (even the really good and noble things) before attending to the presence of God that is my hope and my redemption.

So, this morning, as I lay quite still upon my bed, I affirmed that “the Lord is here” and gave myself up to the silence. At which point, my stomach rumbled. Loudly. And the neighbours’ dogs began barking. And Little Cat hopped up to purr a happy hello.

“The Lord is here,” I muttered again and again, as if it were a wish – no, a command! – rather than a reality.

My stomach gurgled. The dogs a little further up the street took up the call. The garbage truck passed by. And Little Cat curled up against my side, a warm and welcome lump of love …

… which is when I felt it. Like soft light through wind-stirred leaves, God embraced me. And my soul smiled.T

The Lord is here.
The Lord is.
The Lord….

It’s nothing but smoke

* contemplating in community Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 and James 1:2-11*

You will need:

  • a central altar or table,
  • a black table cloth,
  • a large candle (with three wicks is helpful to invoke visually the image of a Triune God),
  • smaller tea lights (sufficient for the group),
  • a lighter or matches,
  • copies of the service, one per participant.

Ritual actions indicated in red and congregational/group responses in purple. 

Part 1: Nearing the light
1.1 Welcome and an invitation to silence

1.2 A suitable piece of music is played or sung e.g. Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here

1.3. Praying the Psalms (based on Ps. 119:145-152) 

<the black tablecloth is placed on altar and unfolded >

Like those watching and waiting for the sunrise,
we cry out to You, O God, – our Help and our Salvation –
for our eyes have seen the darkness of night
and the gloom that grows 
as the world wanders
farther and farther from Your truth.

<the large candle is placed in the centre of the altar and lit>
Our deepest desire is to come closer to You,
to live in Your Light,
to learn from the Word that will last forever.

In Your love, hear our voice;

in Your justice, keep us alive;

in Your mercy, draw us near.

1.4 A suitable piece of music is played or sung e.g. So you would come

during which <people are invited to bring their candles forward, light them from the central candle and place them upon the altar>

Part 2: Seeing the smoke
2.1 Old Testament reading – Ecclesiastes 1:3-11 (The Message)
Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.]
There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.

<the candles that each participant has lit are blown out and a moment of silent kept as they smoke>

What’s there to show for a lifetime of work,
a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone?
One generation goes its way, the next one arrives,
but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old planet earth.

The sun comes up and the sun goes down,
then does it again, and again—the same old round.
The wind blows south, the wind blows north.
Around and around and around it blows, blowing this way, then that
—the whirling, erratic wind.
All the rivers flow into the sea, but the sea never fills up.
The rivers keep flowing to the same old place, and then start all over and do it again.

Everything’s boring, utterly boring—no one can find any meaning in it.
Boring to the eye, boring to the ear.
What was will be again, what happened will happen again.
There’s nothing new on this earth. Year after year it’s the same old thing.
Does someone call out, “Hey, this is new”?
Don’t get excited—it’s the same old story.

Nobody remembers what happened yesterday.
And the things that will happen tomorrow?
Nobody’ll remember them either. Don’t count on being remembered.

2.2. Prayer of confession
Lord of Love, of Light, of Life 
how grateful we are for the gentle whisper to draw near;
to leave at the door, the busyness and the burdens of the week gone by;
to bring to the cross, the brokenness and the bitterness both inflicted upon us and by us,
in thought and word and deed;
to see through the darkness, the bold blaze of Your Spirit at work – with and within us.

<silence>

Yet even as we unwind in Your presence,
even as our lives are renewed by Your love,
we know too well how quickly this hour passes
and how easily our delightful dance with Your Spirit
 is replaced
by the relentless pursuit of smoke
that is such an accepted part of daily life.

Forgive us this day/night for the shortness of our attention 

and the shallowness of our commitment to walk in Your light;

show us how insubstantial the power, the popularity,
the possessions we pursue really are

against Your eternal promises;

guard us against the disease of dissatisfaction that demands we give in
to our greed, our laziness, our pride, our lust;
And help us to persevere in the way of humility, justice and love.
Amen.

2.3 A suitable piece of music is played or sung e.g. Create in me a clean heart ...

Part 3: Reigniting the flame

3.1 New Testament reading: James 1:2-11 (The Message)

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

When down-and-outers get a break, cheer! And when the arrogant rich are brought down to size, cheer! Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing.

3.2 A brief meditation is offered or participants are invited to share the grace that they have received through the passages.

<silence>

3.3. Prayers for one another and/or the world
The apostle James challenges us to consider the tests and challenges that life brings our way as a gift for they force our faith-life into the open. But he also reminds us that we do not face them alone but with the help of the Father who loves us and listens to what we ask. So we pray this day – boldly, believingly – for those who are wilting and withering under life’s pressure and problems.

<as prayers are offered by the members, the candles are solemnly lifted up one by one and relit from the central flame as an invitation for Christ’s love to shine in the places of darkness and pain;>

The leader concludes:

Great God who set the sun in place and flung the night’s stars into space,
shine Your light upon our world with such power and compassion 
that the shadows of sin and shame, of worry and uncertainty may fade away;
touch the deep places of pain, of disappointment, of broken relationship 
with such healing warmth that hope and wholeness and health may bloom;
and colour our lives like sunset skies with perfect peace and joy everlasting.

Part 4: Bearing the light

4.1 Sharing the peace

<the peace of the Lord is shared with each person collecting a candle and offering it to another>

4.2. Benediction

<when all the candles have been given, the group blesses one another with the words:>  

The light of God surrounds us.
The love of God enfolds us.
The power of God protects us.
The presence of God watches over us.
Wherever we are, God is.
May we bear God’s light well.

4.3 A suitable piece of music is played or sung e.g. We’ll walk this land …