Day Twenty Four: The Morning After

Psalm 148
Jeremiah 26:1-9,12-15
Acts 6:8-15; 7:51-60

It’s the morning after ….

For some that means headaches,
or hangovers,
or a house to clean up;
for others something entirely more dire
as we weigh up what happened last night
and what needs to come next
to get ourselves out of (the mess we have made)
or into (the life we have imagined and planned);
for others, still, it is just another day
in the ongoing and endless cycle
of work and rest,
of play and pray ….

Yet, with the rising of the sun on this new day,
we are reminded that the Light has dawned –
the Light of Life, the Lord of Love;

that just yesterday we received the Good News
of God-with-us:

a light-seed planted within us
that love may rise graciously to life –
both in us and through us.

Our readings this day may seem a little unexpected for the morning after the wonderful proclamation of
“Christ is born!”

Yet both give us clues for holding onto and living out that powerful message long after the Christmas decorations have been packed away and life has resumed its usual routine.

Through the prophet Jeremiah comes the warning that if we fail to listen to the words of the Servant who he has sent to us so urgently, our lives will become places of desolation and despair (Jeremiah 26:9).

He makes it clear to us that in order for the light-seed that we have been given through Christ’s coming to bloom and burst forth in the deepest places,
we need to:
change the way we’re living;
mend our deeds;
listen obediently to the Message of God
(Jeremiah 26:13).

I must point out that this message was preached in the court of the Lord’s house to all who had come to worship and not to the unbelievers!

For Stephen, full of Love-inspired grace and power, the message found expression in the miracles and wonders that he was able to perform among people desperate for a little love, a little light;
in a countenance as radiant as an angel’s;
in the imitation of God’s all-embracing love even at the moment of excruciating death as he beseeches God on behalf of those that he had just named a stiff-necked people – resistant to the Holy Spirit:

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” (Acts 8:60).

As we move towards a new year with its usual resolutions to lose weight, spend less,
spend more time with family, stop smoking, learn a new skill etc., today’s word is both encouragement and caution:

to consider carefully, prayerfully, that which truly needs to change in our lives; that, rather than relying on our will or self-discipline, we may move with the Spirit and grow with the Message that we have received –
a Message of affirmation
rather than criticism,
a Message of belonging
rather than the need to perform/conform,
a Message of joy in every moment rather than the vague pursuit of “happiness,”
a Message from God rather than the promotion of another personal brand ….

Where might the Spirit be moving you in the days that lie ahead,
that the light-seed planted in you may grow and bloom?

Day Fifteen: The Song of The Spirit

Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11
Luke 1:46b-55
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8,19-28

Over the second week of Advent, we encountered a God who longs to break open the way of Right and Whole living for us and to lead us into the light, the space, the zest that life with God is all about.

It may seem increasingly difficult to hold onto the gifts of sufficiency, hospitality, and eternity that we have received as our footsteps quicken with the countdown to Christmas but our daily Scripture readings urge us to keep seeking the Son; to take a breath with the Spirit in the midst of the busyness …

… and remember that the Good News of God with us is the promise of God’s power and presence transforming the ordinary, the every day; even the busy day into blessing ….

This week we awaken to the song of the Spirit:

bursting forth from the prophet Isaiah – a powerful proclamation
of good news to the poor
and healing to the heartbroken;
of freedom to the captive
and pardon to all prisoners;
of comfort to those in mourning
and favour to the least …

… the exaltation of a young virgin’s troubled heart set free to glorify the Lord and rejoice in God, her Saviour, for showing such care to a humble, simple servant and making her the most fortunate woman on earth …

inspiring the apostle Paul to write during times of imprisonment and persecution to be joyful and give thanks in all that happens …

truth-telling through John the Baptist concerning the Light that was coming into the world so that all could be clean, new, free.

The song of the Spirit:
… an overture of love thrummed by the morning’s sunrise,
accompanied by mountain-creaks and river gurgles,
the cheeky chirps of the blackbird in the garden,
the wind’s playful passage through the trees …

… an invitation to discern through
the cacophony of car horns, the press of people, the agenda of tasks, the juggling of roles

crotchets of compassion,
minims of mercy,
breath marks and breaks,
caesura (in which time is not counted),
accents of grace …

… an ancient melody full of promise and  of longing, which is finding fulfilment even in this present moment.

Read again the words of Isaiah (61:10):

“The Lord makes me very happy;
all that I am rejoices in my God.
He has covered me with clothes of salvation
and wrapped me with a coat of goodness,
like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding,
like a bride dressed in jewels.”

Sit for some time in silence, becoming aware of the Spirit with and within in ….

Then, when you are ready, write your own song of praise beginning with the words, “The Lord makes me very happy; all that I am rejoices in God. He has ….”

Come. Drink. Flow.

A reflection for Pentecost. Based on John 7:37-39

There is a story* told by the rabbis of old of a great and harsh desert which people were hesitant to cross because of its scorching heat and shifting sands. In the midst of the barren and dangerous wilderness was a well so deep that you couldn’t even see down to the water within it so people had forgotten what it was and what it was there for.

One day, a man who had to cross the white sands came across it and stopped to wonder at its presence and its purpose. And, as he wondered, he noticed a rusty, cup-shaped object half-buried nearby and a half-a-dozen golden strands scattered around around the strange structure.

While hundreds of others had passed by in too much of a hurry over the years, this man took the time to examine each new discovery, and to wonder whether they fit together and if they could somehow help reach the damp coolness that he could feel coming off from the inside of the sturdy stones.

After a long while of pondering and playing, he settled on tying all of the strands together and the big cup with a handle to one end.

Cautiously, he lowered it into the pit and, just as he reached the very end of his makeshift rope, he heard a strange sound and felt the weight of the bucket – for that’s what the rusty object was – shift.

So he heaved and he heaved and, finally, hauled out a bucket full of the purest, clearest water. And as he drank deeply, he was changed – along with his whole view of the desert world around him.

Now the story actually has two endings. In the first, the man set off on his way again, leaving the bucket and the many strands tied together so that the next person could easily reach and taste the transforming water. In the second, before heading off he carefully untied the golden strands and scattered them again so that the next person to come across the well would have the experience of figuring out the puzzle and finding the treasure of the deep well for themselves.

I wonder which ending you think best.

 

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus finds himself in a dangerous place: the Jewish leaders already hate him and are plotting to kill hm, his disciples are pressuring him to be more of a public figure than he wants to be, and the people are whispering about whether he is a good man or simply a great liar.

Yet, as he stands on the temple courts on the last day of the great festival of Tabernacles, he extends this gracious, grace-filled invitation to them all:

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

We all need to hear this invitation on this day of Pentecost for we are living in dangerous times; in a dry and barren place cunningly camouflaged as a welcoming oasis by the luxuries of air-conditioning and uber-eats and internet shopping and thousands of uplifting, motivational messages sent straight to our inbox or Facebook stream.

Even as we advance technologically and acquire more and more stuff to give substance and a vague sense of purpose to our pretty mediocre, mundane lives, we lose the capacity for silence and wonder, for compassion and justice, for unconditional and all-encompassing love.

Like the man in the desert who took time to pick up and put together all of the scattered pieces and gain the refreshing, transforming waters of the deep well, we need to mull over and take time with Jesus’ words to us today if we long to live beyond the shallowness and superficiality of this day and age.

 

In an inhospitable, suspicious world of high fences, diverted faces, and people always on the GO-GO-GO, Jesus’ first word to us is one of intimacy. COME!

“Come” is the eternal invitation to “approach,” “advance,” “draw near.”

“Come” is the starting point of a conversation, a friendship, a journey, an adventure.

“Come” reminds us of the open arms of God and God’s continual desire to be with us …

… even when we are broken, disobedient, angry, fearful, empty, questioning, thirsty.

The first step towards deeper, Spirit-filled living lies in drowning out all of the noise, the pressure, the demands, and taking a deliberate step closer to God.

“Come.”

 

But drawing near to God is just the beginning for the next word comes as a command: DRINK!

Imagine for a moment that you are out at a friend’s house, sitting comfortably together when she asks you if she can get you anything. Immediately, you reply, “Actually, I am quite thirsty. I would love a glass of water!”

She returns a few minutes later with a cup of cool, clear water in her hands which she holds out to you but you simply sit there and stare with your own arms crossed. Will your thirst be quenched by looking at the glass?

Of course not!

It requires you to reach back, receive, and deliberately drink deeply of what is on offer.

How many times do we come to God and feel like we are leaving empty-handed, with unanswered prayer, because we’ve actually been holding on too tightly to things that distract and destroy us? How often do we make time to draw near God in worship and walk away feeling irritated or unfed because our constant internal critique of the worship team, the sermon, how we were greeted – or not welcomed – at the door has kept us from hearing the word that God intended?

“Drink.” Jesus commands.

“Take hold of the grace, the love, the wisdom, the peace, the healing, the guidance, the strength that you find in my presence and make it part of you.”

Once again, the act is deliberate. “Drinking” requires attention and intention – not to mention a good dose of humility for reaching out and taking hold is an expression of something we lack, of something we need.

 

But when we drink deeply of the Spirit of God, when we take the grace we have received into our minds, our hearts, our homes, our communities, something amazing happens: we are changed in a way that changes the world.

Jesus’ final word to us in today’s reading is a promise: “living water will flow from within them.” FLOW!

Many years ago, we purchased a home with an annoying dripping tap next to our patio. The constant trickle of water stained the bricks black with algae that Darren (my husband) had to scrape off every few weeks. He tried brute strength to force the tap closed. He even replaced the rubber stopper but still the water drip-drip-dripped.

Eventually, at my mom’s suggestion, we placed an old cast iron bath tub beneath it; filled it with soil, and planted Louisiana irises which flourished from the constant trickle that had once irritated us so.

Now I’m not suggesting that we, as Christians, become irritating drips to others, but I am wondering: if a trickle of water can bring a bathtub of soil and bulbs into an abundance of life and beauty, what can the free flowing waters of God’s Spirit accomplish? If the unexpected treasure of a deep well in the midst of the desert can change the way a man sees the world and make him consider the legacy he wants to leave for others, how does the Spirit within us open up new ways of looking and loving and living?

“Come. Drink,” Jesus says, “And the Spirit will flow.”

We need to be intentional about the first two words, then God will take over and open the floodgates for there is an everlasting abundance of Spirit to be shared.

Why, then, do we keep trying to tighten the taps? Why do we so often hoard and hold into the grace we have received as if there is not enough to go around?

Raised in the desert world as we are, we learn lies from an early age like, “I’ve earned this,” or “people like that are not worthy,” or “I won’t give them a hand because they’ll take the whole arm.” These moral judgments, entitlements, inadequacies all act like dams in the river of God’s Spirit, interrupting the flow.

 

This Pentecost may we receive the word of invitation and come to God as we are – deliberately drawing near.

May we hear the command and drink deeply of the grace on offer from the One who loves us most and knows exactly what we need in this present moment.

And may we trust the words of promise and break down the barriers in our hearts which keep the Spirit from flowing in a way that brings beauty and life to others.

***

* This story has been draw from the Godly play lesson entitled “The Parable of the Deep Well.”

 

Breathe

A guided meditation for sensitising people to the Spirit of God with and within them… to be read slowly with periods of silence between paragraphs.

***

Make yourself comfortable. Lie down or sit in a comfortable position – body relaxed, heavy, relying on the support of the floor or a chair, feeling the connection points, the texture beneath your skin, the tension in your muscles ….

Close your eyes and listen to the sounds outside the room – of traffic passing by; people rushing around on errands, chatting on the phone, laughing with friends; of birdsong and wind in the trees … picture in the myriad of sounds the whole world around you.

Now shrink the big world outside and focus on what you hear immediately around you – people getting settled, shifting … breathing, breathing, breathing.

Focus on your breath – breathed into your nostrils by the very God who made you and gave you life …

And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.
Genesis 2:7

Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly. Acknowledge the breath within you – a breath which without we would return to lifelessness like the dry bones of the valley …

Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: as one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath … all go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.
Ecclesiastes 3:19-20

Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly. How easily are you breathing? Do you feel short of breath, harassed, hurried, unwell? Are there places in your life that are dry and dusty, even dead?

Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly. Allow He who makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; who sends lightning with the rain; who brings out the wind from his storehouses (Psalm 135:9) to reach into life with a creative energy and active power that may be invisible but is surely felt – like the breeze rustling amongst the trees, or the wind whipping up the waves on a once-calm sea.

Now a wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea. It brought them down all around the camp to about three feet above the ground, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. All that day and night and all the next the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than 60 bushels.
Numbers 11:31-32

Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly. Let your body relax more deeply beyond the chair or the floor that holds your weight into the certainty of God’s creativity and activity at work in your body, in your life.

Let the wind of God blow away the dust and dirt that has settled within you during this long day, the words of doubt or discouragement that still linger, the worries that drift over and over within your mind …

Let it carry to you in gentle whispers what you need to nourish your soul and restore your strength and remind you Who it is that made you and to Whom you belong. Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly.

Breath. Wind. Ruach – the Hebrew word used in the Old Testament to describe them. A feminine noun; the gentle, yet powerful, touch of God.

Breath. Wind. Ruach.

Yet there is another word too:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the “Ruach” of God was hovering over the waters.
Genesis 1:1-2

Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly. Feel the Spirit of God with and within you.

God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun.

He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Master God, only you know that.”

He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!’”

God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!”

I prophesied just as I’d been commanded. As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them.

He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, ‘God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!’”

So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive! 

Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly. Not just breath, but ruach – Spirit. God’s Spirit touching the tired, aching places. God’s Spirit knitting together the fragments and compartments into which we break ourselves, our time, our lives, our day. God’s Spirit expelling lifelessness and monotony for movement and real life. God’s Spirit filling us with possibility …

Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly.

And in the days that lie ahead, when life is tiresome or troubling, when people have pushed you to your breaking point, take a breath with the awareness that you invite in each inhalation something more: the Ruach of God. Turn your face towards the wind and open yourself up to the gentle caress of God.

God’s Spirit within us. God’s Spirit around us. God’s Spirit in me. God’s Spirit in you.

Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly. And when you are ready, arise alive with energy and vision for the life and work that God calls you to.